Ron Fielding, head of Oppenheimer's Rochester municipal-bond team, announced that he will retire on May 20. Fielding's departure comes on the heels of a disastrous year for the aggressive funds. Exposure to low-quality bonds and a high degree of leverage--both mainstays of Fielding's yield-driven approach--led to double-digit losses in 2008. The worst offender, Oppenheimer Rochester National Municipal (ORNAX), lost nearly half of its value during the year.
Fielding, 60, has been in the money-management business for years and started his own firm in Rochester in 1983. OppenheimerFunds bought the firm in 1996 and in 2002 put Fielding in charge of its 18 state and national municipal offerings, which now total $21.6 billion. The funds certainly have had high points during Fielding's tenure, often producing category-topping returns, but his forays into dicey areas of the bond market have made them some of the most volatile municipal-bond funds around.
Daniel Loughran, who has worked with Fielding since 1994, will take over as team leader. The transition comes as Oppenheimer makes sweeping changes to its fixed-income team after several taxable funds, including Oppenheimer Core Bond (OPIGX) and Oppenheimer Champion Income OPCHX, suffered staggering losses in 2008. Longtime manager Art Steinmetz was recently promoted to director of fixed-income, and Geoffrey Craddock was hired as head of risk management. It remains to be seen whether any of the large-scale changes will affect the municipal funds directly.
Katie Rushkewicz Reichart, CFA does not own shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar's editorial policies.