For a Fifth Year, J.P. Morgan Tops All-America Fixed-Income Sales Team

Bank of America Merrill Lynch holds steady in second place; Wells Fargo Securities leaps into the top five for the first time.

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J.P. Morgan and Bank of America Merrill Lynch finish in first and second place, respectively, on Institutional Investor’s All-America Fixed-Income Sales Team for a fifth consecutive year, while Citi holds the third tier. Rounding out this year’s top five are Wells Fargo Securities and Goldman, Sachs & Co.; each leaps two levels to land at No. 4 and No. 5.

A total of 22 firms make this year’s team (plus an additional six that receive an honorable mention). Click on the Leaders link in the navigation table at right to view those that rank highest. Data regarding firms not appearing here are available from the Institutional Investor Research Group; for information please contact Esther Weisz at 212-224-3307 or eweisz@iiresearchgroup.com.

“J.P. Morgan has a deep stable of highly professional salespeople that function as a cohesive unit,” observes one money manager. “They really back each other up seamlessly and foster open communication lines with their entire desk. Their professionalism and attention to detail — which matter greatly — are unparalleled in the municipals space. Perhaps most important, they are fully transparent and operate with the utmost integrity.”

Unless instructed otherwise, II keeps confidential the identities of survey participants and their firms to ensure their continuing cooperation.

“J.P. Morgan has one of the few remaining sales forces that includes seasoned professionals who understand portfolio management and the challenges of buying the right products at attractive yields in an environment generally starved of two-way liquidity,” reports another investor. “With the regulatory changes limiting the ability of trading desks to position much of anything — especially non-investment-grade debt with distressed underlying collateral — we find ourselves becoming more and more reliant upon the ability of the salesperson to communicate the complex dynamics of distressed debt.”

G. Hunter Haas IV, chief investment officer at Orchid Island Capital in Vero Beach, Florida, offers a similarly upbeat assessment. “We primarily trade agency mortgage-backed securities derivatives and specified pools with J.P. Morgan and have a great relationship with that team,” he says. “Our primary contact, Bobby Heytota, strives to make sure that he understands our immediate focus and our long-term strategy. He and the specified pool and derivatives traders do a great job of showing us securities that fit our strategy. Earning our trust is essential; they do so by being extremely transparent with trade details and market color.”

Other respondents also single out specific individuals for special recognition. Among the comments we hear:

• “Tom Baluk and Mary Ross understand of our investment criteria. This enables them to show us assets we are more likely to purchase. They also help us by getting us access to issuers via one-on-one meetings, their hosted investment conferences and in-country trips. Direct access to policymakers and corporate decision makers is critical to our understanding of our credits and ultimate investment success.”

• “Brian Charters does an excellent job — he really digs in and understands the credits he is involved in. Additionally, he goes the extra mile in understanding our firm and our needs.”

• “Betsy Comerford maintains a strong understanding of the subtle nuances of residential and commercial properties underlying the vast array of mortgage products. She is aware of how portfolios live and breath and the challenges that portfolio managers face daily. She is without peer in the ability to help us navigate these challenging times.”

• “Mike Fahy provides our team with timely updates on deals. He is able to bring us in contact with the right professionals at J.P. Morgan to educate us and keep us abreast of markets.”

• “Nick Firth and Ramy Ghattas continue to bring the full breadth of J.P. Morgan’s trading, research and company resources to our firm.”

• “I find the capital-markets team excellent, in particular Jenny Lee. We have a great two-way business with them, including trading and new-issue allocations.”

• “Jessica Levi does a terrific job; she is focused, forthright and competent.”

• “Mike Manganaro is instrumental in helping us derive the best interaction with his firm’s research staff. J.P. Morgan’s syndicate has regularly delivered allocations that help us allocate capital within our investment portfolio on a favorable basis.”

• “Pat Murray does an outstanding job understanding our needs, and we are very happy with our relationship.”

• “Michael Sufrin is excellent, knowledgeable and savvy.”

• “Joe Swirbalus and Gregg Chatterton provide timely research, access to traders and strategists, and have strong personal relationships throughout my firm. J.P. Morgan has always been a top-three counterparty with me, and while others are backing away from some areas, they continue to expand. We are also tight with our back-up rates coverage, Tim Hanson; our mortgage-backed securities coverage, Rich Whalen; and head of office, Steve Burbage.”

• “Justin Titus does a great job of helping to keep our market IQ up. He keeps us in front of primary pipelines and secondary flows, and is always willing to pull in research, traders and others for follow-ups.”

• “Ron Torre has done an excellent job of building a relationship with us and working the channels internally within J.P. Morgan to provide us with the services we need. We have had many complicated situations in which most salespersons simply walk away if they don’t see an easy trade. In contrast, Ron has shown a tenacity to force focus and a willingness to dig deep into the details himself in order to find a solution.”

• “Mike Walmark is very client-focused and is driven to build broader, lasting relationships.”

The No. 2 firm also enjoys an enthusiastic following. “The BofA Merrill sales force takes the time to learn my needs as a client and then focuses on those needs. They leverage their firm to cover me broadly by offering resources to discuss a range of topics,” attests one backer. “Bottom line: They keep me well informed and focus on my needs as a client.”

Several respondents highlight the low turnover in the sales department. “I like the fact that our sales coverage has stayed constant through the past five years, whereas most of the other banks have changed coverage — multiple times too. It’s harder to develop a true relationship with so many changes,” says one.

“I’ve had a long-standing relationship with them and continuously see good information flow, whether it comes to new issues or secondary,” adds another. “Their structured-credit team is very experienced and knowledgeable about the products they cover.”

One portfolio manager says he appreciates the team’s commitment to growth. “For a firm that has such a large primary business that could very easily rest on its laurels, they all work hard to grow the secondary business and realize how to get access to what’s important, whether it be access to the trading desk, research connectivity and overall access to the market color or flows going through the desk,” this client says.

“I have a favorable opinion of the sales force at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and David Litt in particular, for several reasons,” explains one advocate. “The firm has very deep research capabilities across asset classes and geographies. Given the depth and breadth of the platform, it is imperative that the sales coverage know the clients’ needs and direct the optimal research to clients. In such a dynamic macro environment, where the topic du jour changes often — the U.S. Federal Reserve, China, the European Central Bank, Greece and so on — the BofA Merrill team is excellent at highlighting the appropriate research for clients.”

Other backers also cite individuals in their praise:

• “Mike Contopoulos provides provocative insights and a real willingness to engage. He is always extremely responsive. We consider ourselves a high-quality shop that values long-term relationships. We are fundamentally oriented and operate with complete transparency. We feel that BofA Merrill recognizes and values this.”

• “Greg Driscoll does a great job of being thoughtful with his communication by balancing our needs with his firm’s offerings. The relationship has developed over many years and I look forward to continuing to build upon it as it is a win-win for both parties.”

• “Greg Driscoll provides very good coverage for our firm with an ideal focus on information flow and efficiency. He provides complete access to other parts of the desk, including traders, analysts and strategists. We feel like we have access to the entirety of BofA Merrill. Greg is very good at understanding our needs and is able to provide color and commentary in a most useful and efficient manner — no wasted time.”

• “Bill Johnston does a great job of both finding us bonds and communicating expectations.”

• “Evan Peverley has taken the time to know what sectors I cover and keep me informed of new issuance in my coverage universe as well as meetings they are setting up with management teams. His efforts to know what I cover and only bring me relevant deals is appreciated.”

• “Chris Stebbings gives us good treatment on new issues, good reads on market activity and is just plain a nice guy!”

Citi, in third place for a second straight year, “is one of the few dealers out there that still runs a fairly comprehensive sales and trading operation,” reports one fan. “The sales force works well with the trading staff and offers more than the minimal effort if things get complicated.”

According to one asset manager, “the two key attributes for sales specialists are product knowledge and client understanding. During my interactions with Citi’s sales staff, they have demonstrated both — and this makes my job easier and more effective.”

Among the salespeople who warrant special recognition:

• “Stephanie Arling is a resourceful and effective advocate for us.”

• “Virginia Eldred-Scholl covers our structured-products team. We think highly of her because she communicates well and often, takes time to understand our needs, plans periodic meetings with traders and issuers, and has an overall great personality.”

• “Doug Stuart is extremely attentive and proactive.”

Each year II asks participants in the broader All-America Fixed-Income Research Team survey to tell us which firms provide the best sales support to investors in U.S. fixed-income securities. This year we received responses from more than 1,440 buy-side analysts and money managers at approximately 500 firms that collectively manage some $9.2 trillion in U.S. fixed-income assets. Roughly 77 percent of the people who cast votes in the research team survey, representing 93 percent of the participating buy-side institutions, answered our question about the best sales teams.

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