ATLANTA - Little-Rock based Stephens Inc. is continuing to beef up its public finance operation in the Southeast, recently hiring two investment bankers in New Orleans and one in Atlanta.

In New Orleans, the firm last week named Kermit S. Billups a vice president and John Poche and associate vice president, according to David "Buck" Landry, branch manager.

Billups served in the public finance department of Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. in Baltimore. Poche was a first vice president at CitiState Advisors Inc., a financial advisory firm based in Baton Rouge.

In Atlanta, Stephens this week brought on Bruce E. Bowers, according to Michael DeVegter, the firm's branch manager there. Bowers served as an associate in public finance law at Atlanta-based Long, Aldrige & Norman.

Landry said that the addition of Billups, a housing specialist, will allow the firm to devote more time to developing its housing bond business nationwide. He said Poche will focus on local issuers in Louisiana.

In Atlanta, DeVegter said that Bowers, the son of Georgia's attorney general Michael Bowers, will be a generalist covering local issuers in the state.

Stephens opened its first public finance branch office in Atlanta in 1990. Since then, the firm has added six more branch offices, most recently in New Orleans in December 1993. Its other offices are in Dallas; Houston; Overland Park, Kan.; Anchorage; and Washington, D.C.

So far this year, Stephens ranks 42nd nationally as a senior manager, with 25 deals totaling $190.1 million, and 69th as a co-manager, with 56 issues totaling $927 million, according to Securities Data Co. In 1993, the firm ranked 60th as a senior manager, with 109 issues totaling $612.5 million, and 56th as a co-manager with 246 deals totaling $5.7 billion.

Stephens served as lead manager on all three of the Louisiana offerings in which it participated this year, ranking third as senior manager in the state, based on $101.9 million of deals, and 11th when full credit is given to all managers, according to Securities Data.

This compares with Stephens' Louisiana senior manager ranking of 36th in 1993, based on two issues totaling $4.5 million, and a co-manager ranking of 41st, based on seven issues totaling $76 million.

In Georgia so far this year, the firm ranks ninth as senior manager with for issues totaling $22.9 million. When full credit is given to all managers, it has participated as a manager in five transactions totaling $28.1 million for a ranking of 31st.

In 1993, Stephens ranked 12th as a senior manager of Georgia issues with 20 financings totaling $145.9 million, and 24th as a co-manager, with 28 issues totaling $1.05 billion, according to Securities Data.

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