Muni conferences canceled because of coronavirus

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Concerns about transmission of the illness known as COVID-19 have led to a cascading number of conference cancellations related to the municipal bond market and securities trading.

The National Association of Bond Lawyers, the Bond Dealers of America, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association are among the groups that have announced cancellations within the last week.

Mike Nicholas, CEO of the Bond Dealers of America

“Anybody who’s having an event between now and May is considering what to do about it,” said Mike Nicholas, CEO of the Bond Dealers of America. “I don’t care whether it’s a 15 person round table or a 5,000 person conference.”

COVID-19, which is caused by a member of the coronavirus family, has now sickened more than 1,000 people in the U.S. and led to major international travel restrictions and cancellations or postponements of sporting events, festivals, and other large gatherings.

Nicholas said many companies have restricted non-essential domestic travel by employees. “And it’s not only travel restrictions, it’s also a market that is dynamic to say the least,” Nicholas said. “It’s keeping people very, very busy.”

BDA and Municipal Market Analytics were scheduled to co-host the one-day National Municipal Bond Conference in Dallas on May 5. BDA also had planned to hold the Retail Fixed Income Roundtable also in Dallas a day earlier, which is usually attended by about 50 senior retail executives.

Both those events are being postponed, Nicholas said.

The roundtable will be held in August on a date yet to be determined and the municipal bond conference will be held in New York City in the fall with Oct. 1 as the tentative target date.

“The reason for that is travel restrictions,” said Nicholas. “Almost all of our member firms have a restriction on non-essential U.S. domestic travel. Not all of them do, but a lot of them do with no defined end date. Because of that, the folks who would normally register for the conference are not registering.”

The mega conference scheduled to be held in New Orleans in May by the Government Finance Officers Association remains on the books, but cancellation is under consideration.

GFOA’s annual conference draws thousands of local officials from all around the U.S. and parts of Canada.

GFOA Executive Director and CEO Chris Morrill said he expects the final “go-no go” decision to be made in late April or early May.

Members of GFOA have been advised on the association’s website that the full conference refund date has been extended until May 7 for the May 17-20 event.

“Hotel reservations made through GFOA’s official room block can be cancelled within 72 hours of arrival date,” the website says. “We know you have enough to worry about in your own communities so you don’t have to be concerned about your conference registration for many weeks.”

“We continue to explore options if the conference cannot be held in May, including identifying possible dates later in the summer and/or providing sessions virtually,” Morrill said in an email. “We are continuing our in-person classes as planned and increasing the number of internet courses.”

NABL President Richard Moore, a tax partner at Orrick in San Francisco, said his association’s decision to cancel a conference scheduled for March 19-20 in San Diego came “after much deliberation and anguish.”

Moore cited “the rapidly changing public health concerns surrounding the spread of the coronavirus, the number of attendee cancellations we received due to personal travel concerns or travel restrictions imposed by their firms, and the growing number of similar industry events that have been cancelled.”

NABL is focused on finding an alternative method to deliver the content that its March 19-20 conference would have delivered to its audience of mostly bond attorneys.

“In terms of future conferences, we have daily discussions regarding The Essentials, which is scheduled for Dallas in mid-April,” Moore said. “No decision has been made at this time. After that, our next scheduled conference is The Workshop in September. I hope this has passed by then.”

NABL’s cancellation of The Institute came on March 6, which was 13 days in advance.

The SEC’s decision to postpone its March 10 conference in Washington, D.C. on municipal securities came only the day before it was scheduled to be held.

“The event will be rescheduled at a future date,” the announcement said.

The SEC conference, which was set to be livestreamed on the internet, was entitled “Spotlight on Transparency: A Discussion of Secondary Market Municipal Securities Disclosure Practices” and was to include SEC Chairman Jay Clayton.

SIFMA has announced the cancellation of three events because of what it said were “circumstances beyond SIFMA’s control.”

About 2,000 people annually attend SIFMA’s compliance and legal conference, which had been scheduled for March 15 to 18 in Orlando, Florida.

SIFMA also canceled a Securities Industry Institute and SII Graduate Program planned for March 8 to 13 in Philadelphia and an Operations Conference and Exhibition planned for April 21 to 24 in San Diego.

On its website, SIFMA said it had “no reason to believe that any of our conference facilities or prospective attendees might create the risk of exposure to coronavirus.”

“The cancellations have been driven primarily by restrictions on non-essential travel implemented by many of SIFMA’s member firms and other organizations that impact the ability of our speakers, sponsors and other attendees to participate in our events,” the statement said.

The SIFMA statement also cited “public health and travel advisories in the United States and other countries; cancellations and other issues associated with international and domestic air travel; and other difficulties that our attendees may face.”

SIFMA still has an April 28 event in New York City, a mid-May conference in Florida and three June events on its schedule.

Although most of the cancellations to date have been national events, there also are more local and regional ones that are falling by the wayside.

The Wisconsin Health & Educational Facilities Authority (WHEFA) this week canceled its 23rd annual statewide conference planned for March 16.

"We have made the difficult decision to cancel the WHEFA conference," said Dennis Reilly, executive director of the WHEFA. "Over 200 people registered to attend, and we fully expected it to be one of our best conferences. As an organization, our top priority is the safety and well-being of our conference attendees and speakers.”

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