Six debt bankers resigned at Bank of America Merrill Lynch en masse on Friday, leaving the firm shortly after bonuses were paid out two weeks ago. They are Jimmy Choi, head of high-yield for Asia; Kang-Jae Kim, a Singapore-based director covering Southeast Asia; Leonard Ng, a vice-president; Linda Xu, an associate; and Jimmy Chua and Anita Leung, both analysts.
The bankers are rumoured to be headed for ANZ to join Michael Luk, who was previously head of debt capital markets Asia-Pacific at BoA Merrill before he left the firm in August 2011. Luk later resurfaced at ANZ in November as its global head of debt origination and head of capital markets Asia.
Following his departure from BoA Merrill, it was widely believed that it would be only a matter of time before Choi, Kim and Ng followed him. Luk had worked with the trio at Deutsche Bank and brought them on board at BoA Merrill when he joined in 2010.
An ANZ spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on market speculation.
However, ANZ has been ramping up its debt platform in the region and could do with the headcount if it wants to seriously beef up on the dollar debt front.
ANZ was ranked 27th in Asia-ex Japan G3 markets late last year. During 2011, a busy year for debt, it arranged only two dollar bonds — one for Fiji and another for San Miguel. In the past, it has focused on hiring for its local currency bond business, having poached a number of bankers from Standard Chartered.
The six bankers are leaving BoA Merrill at a busy time for debt capital markets, which have churned out a record $30.3 billion worth of deals this year. A full pipeline also looms. Rival bankers suggested that the firm does not have many people left to execute deals, but sources within the firm claim that there is more than enough bench strength in place to continue business as usual.
Ranobir Mukherji, head of debt capital markets for Asia ex-Japan and Australia (who had previously worked at UBS with Matthew Koder), remains at the firm, as does Jonathan Yip, who was hired from Credit Suisse last year to cover investment-grade and high-yield China debt. There are also said to be at least five other debt origination directors in Asia and more than a dozen vice-presidents, associates and analysts, not including India, Japan and Australia.
Nonetheless, BoA Merrill has struggled to maintain its league table positions for Asian dollar debt excluding Japan. In 2010, the firm was in fifth place but it dropped to ninth place in 2011, before moving up to seventh position this year to-date, according to Dealogic. Similarly on the dollar high-yield front, the bank slipped from third place in 2010 to 12th place in 2011 but has moved up to the sixth position year-to-date.
BoA Merrill declined to comment for the story.