Bank of America Merrill Lynch has hired former UBS syndicate banker Philip Wong as it continues to build its equity capital markets business in Asia. According to sources, Wong will join the ECM team at BoA Merrill as an associate and will work on the equity syndicate desk that is run by Nicholas Lee.
His hire comes a couple of months after BoA Merrill hired Wong’s former boss at UBS, James Fleming, as co-head of Asia ECM and also follows Matthew Koder’s move from UBS to BoA Merrill earlier this year to become head of the corporate and investment banking business in Asia.
The fact that the firm continues to hire from UBS is therefore quite natural, although Wong’s departure is another blow for the Swiss bank, which lost two members of its equity syndicate in March when Steve Lam and Harish Raman both resigned to join Citi. Wong’s departure just over one week ago also came just before the arrival of Ross Baildon who started work at UBS last Friday as the new head of equity syndicate, replacing Sam Kendall who was promoted to head of ECM for Asia in April.
At UBS Wong has been highly involved in the execution of overnight block trades and follow-on placements, a business that the Swiss bank dominated together with Morgan Stanley until 2010 when Goldman Sachs emerged as a serious competitor. This year, several other banks, including BoA Merrill, have said that they too intend to put more focus on block trades, which require the use of balance sheet but, if you get it right, can be quite profitable in relation to the time spent on them.
The hire of Wong fits into this strategy as did the arrival of Fleming in mid-June. Fleming too has a lot of experience in the execution of blocks from his time at UBS in Asia, initially as head of Southeast Asia ECM and from March 2008 to late 2009 as head of equity syndicate. He transferred to the US at the beginning of 2010 to become head of equity syndicate for the Americas.
Wong joined the Asia equity syndicate at UBS in July 2007 after his graduation from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
BoA Merrill has been involved in a couple of large block trades so far this year, including Kookmin Bank’s recent $1.7 billion sale of KB Financial treasury shares, which it led together with Citi. It also acted as the sole bookrunner for Petronas’s divestment of its entire $2.1 billion stake in Cairn India in April, which ranked as the largest ever overnight block trade out of India. Smaller deals include an $82 million sell-down in Winsway Coking Coal by China-focused private equity fund Hopu, Temasek’s $153 million sale of its entire stake in Chinese property developer Kaisa and a recent $106 million sell-down by AIA in CP All, a 7-Eleven franchise in Thailand.
UBS has lost a number of bankers from its ECM and investment banking teams in Asia over the past 18 months amid some concerns about the firm’s long-term plans for this business as it struggles with slower profit growth across the bank. Other firms have taken advantage of the uncertainty to boost the ranks of their own businesses.
While it continues to execute deals and win mandates, there is no question that UBS has suffered from the string of departures and even before the announcement of the latest results, observers argued that it would take a couple of years for it to return to its former leadership position in Asia ECM.