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Government bond issues in New Jersey have returned to Earth so far this year—decreasing in both number and average value−though Wolff & Samson again topped the list of bond counsel rankings.

Still, it wasn’t all business as usual in 2014, as one newcomer—Haddonfield, N.J.-based Archer & Greiner—entered the top five.

There were 147 bonds issued with a total value of $5.01 billion for the first half of 2014, compared with 165 issues worth a combined $9.33 billion for the first half of last year, according to data provided by Thomson Reuters.

That’s a 10.9 percent drop in issues and a 46.3 percent drop in total value.

In the first half of 2012, there were 217 issues worth $5.23 billion; in 2011, 117 worth $4.62 billion; in 2010, 165 worth $6.79 billion; and in 2009, 145 worth $6.76 billion.

A total of 22 firms have advised bond issues this year.

See the chart here.

Refinancing of existing debt remains a market driver, as government entities still are reluctant to borrow, according to John Scally Jr., of Wolff & Samson’s public finance group.

“They’re going to cash more than they’re issuing debt if they have that luxury,” Scally said. “There still is trepidation, I think.”

The West Orange, N.J., firm topped the rankings for the fourth straight year—thanks in large part to $1.23 billion in refinancing for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority for school facilities construction refinancing, as well as $1 billion in revenue bonds for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

Those deals, plus a fourth worth $5 million, totaled $2.23 billion, giving Wolff & Samson a 44.6 percent market share.

In the first half of last year, Wolff & Samson advised 12 issues worth a total of $2.86 billion, a 30.6 percent market share.

Firm partner Bernard Davis said of the firm’s reliance on large state government financings: “We’ve done it long enough [that] I think we know where the sweet spot is as far as bidding.”

Scally added that Wolff & Samson’s other practice groups represent many local government entities, which often conflicts the public finance group out of handling their bond issues. “It’s harder to be nimble in the local practice if you’re … a firm of 140 lawyers that’s full-service.”

Gluck Walrath of Red Bank, N.J., ranked second with four issues worth $436.7 million, an 8.7 percent market share. Issues by the New Jersey Educational Facilities Authority worth a combined $391.2 million accounted for most of that amount. The firm also handled issues by the city of Newark and Hamilton Township.

Last year, Gluck Walrath ranked third, though it was more active, with nine deals worth $1.02 billion and a market share of 10.9 percent.

McManimon, Scotland & Baumann of Roseland, N.J.—a perennial top-five firm that advises a large number of smaller bond issues for local government clients—was No. 3 this year, with 37 deals worth $363.4 million, a 7.3 percent market share.

McManimon Scotland, as usual, was involved in the highest number of deals.

The firm typically advises 80 to 100 bond issues per year, according to Edward McManimon III, counsel to the firm.

He said bond work “stays steady,” pointing to the state’s 566 municipalities and numerous other authorities and government entities.

“They don’t all issue debt, but there’s activity in the majority of these in one way or another,” McManimon said.

“We have a practice that works, and it’s expanding,” he added. “Just look at the number of firms that are in it.”

Placing at No. 4—and joining the rankings for the first time—was Archer & Greiner, which advised 10 issues worth $281.3 million, a 5.6 percent market share.

Those deals included a $103.2 million issue by the Salem County Pollution Control Financing Authority in revenue refinancing bonds, a $47.4 million issue by Sussex County for general improvement and vocational schools, and a $44.3 million issue by Bergen County for special service schools and county colleges.

Archer & Greiner’s arrival in the bond counsel rankings is largely due to the arrival of John Cantalupo in the firm’s young Red Bank office. He left Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer last October.

Growing the public finance practice has been a priority for the firm, which expanded aggressively in recent years but was forced to trim its ranks as revenue declined.

Cantalupo said there’s been a reluctance to embark on capital projects, but “I think that’s starting to change a bit. We’re seeing new projects.”

“I do see it as a growth area for the firm,” he added.

At No. 5—after ranking first or second in three of the previous four years—was Newark’s McCarter & English, with five issues worth $280.8 million, a 5.6 percent market share.

The firm advised an issue of $200 million in revenue bonds by the New Jersey Educational Facilities Authority and $62 million in environmental infrastructure bonds by the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust.

Last year, McCarter & English ranked second, with nine issues worth $2.38 billion, a 25.5 percent market share. The bulk of its bond work in 2013 came from January’s $2.253 billion refunding of existing debt by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Most of that debt came from financing for school construction projects.

Parker McCay came in at No. 6 this year, with 21 issues worth $236.8 million, a 4.7 percent market share. The Mount Laurel, N.J.-based firm advised $74.8 million in general improvement and solid waste utility bond-anticipation notes by Burlington County, $58.3 million in pollution control revenue refinancing bonds by Gloucester County and $55.6 million in bond-anticipation notes and special emergency notes by the city of Hoboken.

Parker McCay’s 21 issues were the second-most among New Jersey firms.

The firm ranked eighth last year, with 19 issues worth $255.3 million.

Newark’s Gibbons P.C. ranked No. 7 this year, with nine issues worth $228.5 million, a 4.6 percent market share. The firm’s biggest deals were issues of $89 million in general improvement and vocational school and college bonds by Monmouth County, and $70.1 million in pooled loan revenue bonds by the Bergen County Improvement Authority.

The next four spots were occupied by firms with market shares of 2 percent to 4 percent: Inglesino Pearlman Wyciskala & Taylor of Parsippany, N.J. (one issue worth $195 million); Wilentz of Woodbridge, N.J. (14 issues worth $192.8 million); Philadelphia-based Saul Ewing (four issues worth $147.1 million); and Rogut McCarthy Troy of Cranford, N.J. (11 issues worth 136.8 million).

The remaining 10 firms had a combined market share of 5.6 percent, with 26 issues worth $277.1 million.

Contact the reporter at dgialanella@alm.com.