Women analysts dominate muniland

By Cate Long
December 5, 2012

Over 2,700 votes were cast by institutional investors to identify the best muniland analysts from the buyside, sellside and credit rating agencies at Smith’s Municipal All-Star Program this week. Analysts from every side of the business were represented among the winners. But the majority of top awards went to women or teams led by women. Women dominate analytical muniland.

The brains of muniland gathered yesterday at Bayards in lower Manhattan to fete the all star research analysts of the tax-exempt world. Amid oil paintings of sailing schooners, the event, organized by Smith’s Research and Gradings, identified the very best municipal analysts across multiple classes of municipal bonds. It’s the Oscars of the municipal space.

Mary Jo Ochson of Federated Investors received the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her 30 years of work in the industry. Ochson is “passionate, fearless and smart,” said Terry Smith, president of Smith’s Research, when he gave her the award. I asked Ochson what career experiences may have led her to becoming the 13th inductee in Smith’s Lifetime Achievement Hall of Fame. Here is what she said:

  • She learned along the way, which is more important than you might imagine.
  • She began in short-term money markets, which did not have many analysts, and had to innovate analytical methods and security covenants.
  • Since Federated is in Pittsburgh, she had to actively seek out ways to participate in industry efforts.
  • Working on industry initiatives really contributes to learning.
  • Much achievement is due to just “hard work.”

Other women who walked away with top awards were Gail Sussman of Moody’s Investors, who garnered the title of Top Director of Rating Agency, and who leads the All-Star First Team of 2012. Natalie Cohen of Wells Fargo garnered first place for Sell-Side Research Director and Generalist Analyst. And Colleen Woodell of Standard & Poor’s took first spot for Chief Credit Officer. Plenty of men won awards, but the top spots went to women. There is no clear answer for why this is. Perhaps bright women on Wall Street were steered toward muniland at one point.

Here is the complete listing of award winners. (Note to journalists – the best sources for muniland commentary are on this list).

When Terry Smith closed the awards luncheon, he talked about how, in the current stressed fiscal conditions, municipal analysts have become rock stars. I could see a collective look of astonishment on the faces of attendees who found it crazy that their little corner of financial markets had become so high profile. But it’s true. The time has come for the brains of muniland to sing their songs. And often the women will be out front.

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