Citigroup Global Markets grabbed the top slot on the lead managers league table for the first quarter, surging ahead from its ninth place finish in the same period last year, according to data from Thomson Financial. The investment bank underwrote $29 billion in domestic ABS deals through March 31, which was $5 billion more over second-place finisher Credit Suisse, and enough activity to open a comfortable lead ahead of its competitors.

Total ABS issuance over the quarter was $254.2 billion, which is practically flat versus the same period last year, when the market produced $250 billion in deals.

Major ranking shifts among the banks made up for the unspectacular issuance volume. While some individual managers improved their rankings by several slots in some cases, a trio of firms - Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns - slid down in the rankings as a group. Placing first, second, and third, respectively, in last year's tally, they appeared in the same order on 1Q06's league table, but in sixth, seventh and eight place instead.

The first-place finish is a return to normalcy for Citigroup, which in the same period last year uncharacteristically closed out the first quarter in ninth place. At the time, Citigroup managed about $17.3 billion in ABS transactions. This time around, Citigroup's showing was enough to garner 11.4% of the ABS market, making it the only bank to break into double-digit numbers in terms of market share.

Investors credited Citigroup's active CDO business for its comeback. In that segment of the ABS market, Citigroup again led the field for the fourth quarter, after doing $6.8 billion in deals and securing 15% of the market, according to Thomson Financial.

Coming in second, Credit Suisse nabbed 9.4% of the overall market share, a noticeable improvement over the 7.7% that it took last year.

Deutsche Bank came in third place, with $22 billion in proceeds, and garnering 8.7% of the market. The performance is also a significant improvement over the same period last year, when Deutsche had $18 billion in league table credit, giving it 7.2% of the market share and allowing it to rank eighth. Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Securities placed fourth and fifth respectively, with Merrill edging out its competitor by just $1.1 billion. Although Merrill was the clear winner in that contest, JPMorgan showed the most improvements, by vaulting five places into fifth position, and improving its market share to 7.9%, up from 4.4% during the same period last year.

Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns, which locked up the top three positions in the same period last year, placed sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively, this time around, underwriting a combined $50.8 billion in transactions. Rounding out the top ten, in ninth and tenth place respectively were Countrywide Securities and Banc of America Securities, which were separated by a mere $649 million in proceeds.

Among the ABS issuers, there were fewer profound ranking shifts. Countrywide Credit Industries, with $14.9 billion, was the market's biggest customer, accounting for 5.9% of overall issuance. Countrywide squeaked by troubled automaker General Motors Corp., with a $206 million difference to claim that top spot. Morgan Stanley Group, with $13.3 billion; Washington Mutual, with $11.1 billion; and Sallie Mae Corp., with $10.4 billion, rounded out the top five issuers. Sixth place issuer Citigroup and seventh place Lehman Brothers Holdings issued $9.7 billion and $8.2 billion in financing, respectively.

Otherwise, the big story among issuers was JPMorgan Chase, which leapt in the rankings from last year's 44th place, with $1.3 billion in issuance, to eighth place in this year's first quarter, tapping the market for $7.9 billion in financing. Ameriquest Mortgage came in ninth, after placing $7.8 billion in ABS, and Credit Suisse Group, with $7.8 billion, was tenth.

(c) 2006 Asset Securitization Report and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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