The recent media firestorm over state and local government finances has resulted in heightened efforts by those in the municipal bond industry to educate jittery investors and enhance disclosure in the nearly $3 trillion market.
Some firms, like Vanguard Inc., are utilizing social networking sites to educate investors, while a veteran municipal expert is working on a new user-friendly guidebook about munis.
“With all the storm and stress in the municipal bond market in recent weeks, Vanguard is using Twitter and Facebook in an educational effort aimed at helping investors understand the risks and potential rewards of tax-exempt bonds,” the company said in a Jan. 26 news bulletin.
The Valley Forge, Pa.-based fund family, which manages $115 billion in municipal assets, has recently been tweeting excerpts from its research commentary, and using Facebook to promote live webinars about its perspective on the municipal bond market.
Meanwhile, Robert Doty, president of American Governmental Financial Services Co., a Sacramento-based private firm that provides independent financial advisory services to state and local governments, is going the traditional route.
He hopes to publish a timely and well-balanced book in coming months to help dispel what he feels are recent inaccurate comments made by pundits, exacerbated by poorly researched articles in the financial press.
“I believe there have been some statements made by people who don’t understand municipal bonds very well,” he told The Bond Buyer last week. “A lot of it stems from a lack of knowledge about how municipal bonds are structured.”
He hopes his book will serve as a guide for investors — many of whom are retirees that rely heavily on their tax-exempt income.
“You see investors selling in quantities and at disadvantageous prices, especially in the retail sectors, because a lot of them are not as sophisticated as other investors,” Doty said.
He plans to call his book “The Municipal Bond Investor’s Little Handbook — How to Tune Out Media Hype and Make Intelligent Investments.”
“I am not going to be painting the market with a rose-colored brush, but despite all the news about pension liabilities, excessive spending, and unbalanced budgets, I simply don’t believe municipal bonds are going to experience large-scale defaults by large issuers,” he said.
Doty has been in the municipal bond market for nearly 40 years, and has worked as a bond lawyer, investment banker and financial adviser.
He has also authored and co-authored other books, and is a contributing writer for several professional financial and legal journals and quarterly publications.
Doty is a member of the National Federation of Municipal Analysts, the Government Finance Officers Association, the California Society of Municipal Analysts, and the National Association of Bond Lawyers.
Municipal experts agree that the need for timely communication is critical.
“It seems reasonable that they would try these new media types because if something happens of an extreme nature, you’re not in a position to explain it in a timely way with the traditional means of communication,” said Chris Mier, municipal strategist at Loop Capital Markets.
While the Chicago-based Loop, an investment bank and broker-dealer, doesn’t use social networks, it has been doing an increased amount of conference calls and face-to-face meetings in recent weeks to ease fears, according to Mier.
Others, too, are ramping up traditional means of communication that they have long valued.
At Deutsche Bank in New York, there has been an increase in monthly mailings, face-to-face meetings, and enhanced training of its sales staff.
Anthony Parish, vice president of fixed income and product specialist at Deutsche, said the firm wants to improve transparency and promote its positive views in the face of continued skepticism.
“Through a combination of these techniques, we can continue to provide clients with a balanced perspective that makes them less prone to making knee-jerk reactions they regret,” he said.
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