The Importance of Attending Industry-Specific Conferences

October 1, 2018

I recently attended the American Public Power Association’s Business and Finance event in Anaheim, Calif., something I’ve been doing religiously since I began coverage of the public power sector in 2006. APPA is essentially the go-to entity in the public power sector for industry information and all things regulatory. The conference is attended by numerous public power professionals and industry participants, including bankers and municipal advisors, yet there was only one public power credit analyst in attendance. I started to ponder why. Maybe it is just easier to say it is a muni thing and call it a day.

Then I got to thinking, why should the municipal world be so different from our corporate counterpart? It doesn’t need to be. We are not all that different; we just choose to attend more municipal market industry conferences. Don’t get me wrong, these conferences that are organized or hosted by municipal market participants are very important for our business. Rather, the conferences I’m talking about are the ones hosted by industry-specific organizations like APPA, American Water Works Association, GFOA, National Association of State Treasurers, National Association of College & University Business Officers, etc. These events afford institutional investors an opportunity to hear from industry professionals about current trends and concerns — whether it be cybersecurity, infrastructure, pension & OPEBs, increased transparency or one of the many other issues that analysts could use to help better develop their top down credit strategies.

As a former buy-side public utilities analyst, I always felt like I had a better understanding of the challenges that face the industry and how individual utilities could address these challenges. While this didn’t help my bottoms-up credit approach, it did help me understand why management spent more than budgeted on certain projects, and it proved an especially helpful tool when judging the strength of the utility’s management team. What I also like is that you don’t get one-sided ideas or groupthink presentations or panels. These conferences provide a peek behind the curtain at the industry’s trends and concerns.

There will always be a font of information issuing forth from the well-known municipal market sponsored conferences, but attending industry specific events can help us become more well-rounded as analysts and investors. We have an opportunity to help the municipal marketplace more closely resemble the corporate space — something good for the entire municipal ecosystem. With improved transparency among muni issuers, and more robust investor outreach programs, we’re already moving in that direction. These industry-specific events are another step forward in our development.

Buy-Side Investor

BondLink Perspective - Former Muni Buy-Side Investor