Muni bond analyst Howard Sitzer remembered
Howard Sitzer, a senior analyst of municipals at CreditSights and a fixture in the muni bond world, is remembered for his deep knowledge, his industry relationships and his personal touch.
Sitzer died suddenly on Saturday at the age of 68. He was buried the following day in a small funeral. He leaves his wife, Reba, and their daughter Selia, 13.
Sitzer, who worked for numerous firms over several decades, joined research firm CreditSights in 2014 and was instrumental in establishing and building its municipals business.
“Howard was a legend in the muni market, having covered the sector his entire career. He had an encyclopedic memory, and was always willing to share his experiences and knowledge with our clients and team,” said Erin Lyons, co-head of U.S. investment grade credit and U.S. credit strategist at CreditSights. “Howard certainly left a mark on our firm, and we will miss him.”
Over the years, Sitzer worked at Bank of America; Merrill Lynch; L.F. Rothschild; Unterberg, Towbin; Thomson; McKinnon Securities; Greenwich Partners; Dain Bosworth; and Herbert J. Sims & Co.
He covered a diverse array of revenue bond structures supporting public power, municipally owned water and sewer utilities, airports, surface transportation, not-for-profit acute care hospitals, continuing care retirement communities, higher education institutions and others.
Earlier in his career, Sitzer was the public power specialist at Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, where he authored a landmark report that forewarned of the default of the Washington Public Power Supply System, the largest municipal bond default of its era.
He also worked in the taxable corporate bond sector on speculative grade credits as a ratings analyst at Moody's Investors Service, where he specialized in high technology and, briefly, the steel and metals industries.
Andy DeVries, a senior utility analyst at CreditSights, recalled when the firm hired him. “I would go on the road and sometimes hear ‘Hey, I hear you hired Howard Sitzer, that guy is a legend,’ and I never thought anything of it. I heard from clients: ‘Howard is the best in the business’ … ‘He reads every doc’ …”
DeVries’ utility coverage then overlapped with Sitzer’s. “I had the great pleasure of actually working with him and seeing what these clients were talking about,” he said. “The term ‘encyclopedia of knowledge’ gets tossed around way too loosely these days but in the case of Howard, it was spot on. He read everything and he remembered all of it.
“Jacksonville Electric sued to get out of a [power purchase agreement] with Southern [Power] on their new nuclear plant after costs ballooned from $12 billion to $28 billion [and still counting] and Howard said out-of-state PPAs are governed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, not state court, this has already been ruled on and settled,“ DeVries said. “Within minutes of the lawsuit hitting the headlines, he had the previous case and the outcome summarized for clients. A few months later, of course, he was proven correct as JEA withdrew their suit.”
Howard Cure, director of municipal bond research for Evercore Wealth Management, knew Sitzer for many years, including on a personal level. Their daughters went to the same sleepover summer camp. “I got to see him interact as a family man,” Cure said.
“He was just what you wanted to see as an analyst,” Cure added. “He was very opinionated and frank in what he said, and that was refreshing.”
David Chang, director and co-sales manager of municipal bonds at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, called Sitzer "my dear friend, colleague and mentor."
"I met Howard in 1990 while working at Greenwich Partners, a high-yield boutique firm of which he was our head of research," Chang said. "We maintained a relationship and a bond for the past 30 years.
"Simply put, Howard was the man holding the bar when the standard was set for providing public finance research that follows the virtues of courage, honor and truth. There will never be another who demanded higher."
Patrick Luby, a senior municipal strategist at CreditSights, noted Sitzer’s filing system, which consisted of piles of detailed information about bonds, bond issuers and other relevant topics.
“But what really impressed me was how Howard was able to retain and integrate all of that data and information into his work,” he said. “He had an amazing memory for details and was able to focus in and identify the little points that might blend into the background for most people but which made a decisive difference in his view of creditworthiness or relative value.
“Howard was a man who was interested in hearing other people’s ideas about bonds, markets, politics and life, but he always formed his own opinions and was able to articulate his positions clearly and firmly, but politely as well.”
Michael Buckley, who retired in 2018 as senior vice president and director of municipal research at Macquarie Investment Management/Delaware Investments, followed Sitzer’s municipal credit reports early on, when he was a buy-side analyst and municipal strategist at Merrill Lynch and later at the combined Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
“I read his detailed reports about the growing financial distress and political pressures of the nuclear power plants under construction by the Washington Public Power Supply System and his reports on various Puerto Rico credits,” Buckley said.
Longtime credit analyst Gene Caponi noted Sitzer could pierce through details while still seeing the big picture. “That separates the stronger analysts from the weaker ones,” he said.
Caponi also remembered Sitzer as a mainstay at industry events, including Municipal Analysts Group of New York functions. “He was fun to be around. At a number of dinners, he’d talk about a variety of issues, whether it was politics, bonds or just life,” he said.
In the high-yield muni space, Sitzer actively conducted credit research as a desk analyst for Greenwich Partners and at Herbert J. Sims, where he covered the new territory of non-rated continuing care retirement communities.
“I enjoyed our conversations on a wide variety of municipal sectors when Howard came to Philadelphia to participate in meetings of the Philadelphia Area Municipal Analyst Society chapter,” Buckley added. “He was a thoughtful analyst and a good writer. He welcomed alternative views on credit and the economy.”
Kevin Lynch of M&T Bank, who worked with Sitzer over the years, called him a friend and a major contributor to the muni industry. “He will be missed,” he said.
Sitzer began his career with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a program and policy analyst with the Department of Community Affairs, where was interim director of the Bureau of Housing Management and Tenant Services.
He earned a bachelor’s and master’s in political science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied public policy analysis.