By Hilary Russ

(Reuters) - Nearly half of the municipal research team at Bank of America Merrill Lynch , the biggest lead manager of municipal bond sales in the $3.7 trillion U.S. market, left the firm last week in a restructuring of the unit, the company confirmed on Monday.

John Hallacy, an award-winning analyst, was until last Wednesday the head of muni research and had been at the firm for more than two decades. Also departing are Susannah Page and Howard Sitzer.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch spokeswoman Selena Morris confirmed the departures of Page and Sitzer and said that Hallacy retired. Morris would not comment on whether the retirement of Hallacy, 57, was voluntary.

"A new structure will be announced shortly," Morris said. "We remain committed to the municipal market." The departures are not part of a workforce reduction, she said. She declined further comment.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch is the top bookrunner in the municipal bond market, with a market share just above 15 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. The bank has run sales for $22 billion of bonds since the start of the year, up from $20 billion in the same period of 2012.

In the muni research unit, four junior-level people currently remain, one source said.

Institutional investors have recognized both Hallacy and Page for their work. Hallacy was a first-place "all-star" for general obligation bonds in December in an annual contest run by Smith's Research & Gradings, an award based on votes from institutional investors.

They also awarded him second-place merits in Smith's "sellside director of research" category. Page was recognized for her research on hospital revenue bonds.

Hallacy previously spent a year at bond insurer MBIA Inc. He began his career in the late 1970s at Standard & Poor's Ratings Services.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; editing by Tiziana Barghini and Matthew Lewis)

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