WI Carr shuts down

A sad day for the markets as Credit Agricole Indosuez decides to shut its Asian equities business, Indosuez WI Carr.

In a move that has surprised few, but saddened many, French bank Credit Agricole Indosuez has decided to close down its venerable Asian equities business, Indosuez WI Carr. The move means that at least 350 staff in its non-Japan Asia offices will lose their jobs with immediate effect.

According to bankers close to the brokerage, CAI had been trying to find a buyer for the business up until the last few weeks but when none was forthcoming, the hard decision was made to close the firm.

WI Carr was one of the first UK brokerages to open in Asia, when in 1969 it opened its Hong Kong office, WI Carr & Sons Overseas. It was soon trailblazing its way around the region opening local equities research and brokerage offices as Asian countries established their domestic capital markets. WI Carr particularly specialized in taking Asian equity product over to European and US investors.

In Asia's glory years of the late 1980s and 1990s, the firm was consistently in the top five in terms of regional broking activity, market share and research rankings. This brought it to the attention of Banque Indosuez which bought the firm in 1987.

Life became very difficult for WI Carr after the Asian financial crisis, however. Many of its core markets of south east Asia were hit by the double whammy of slowing secondary market trading and much lower new issuance volume. Revenues from these places soon dried up.

In its core markets of Hong Kong and Singapore, it also had to compete with aggressively expanding US firms, which viewed research and broking as loss leading add-ons to win corporate finance work.

Over the last few years, many of the top management started leaving the firm, including the whole Indian team which decamped to Salomon Smith Barney over a year ago. But few of those who have left seem to bear any grudges against their old employer. Usually when a firm shuts down, there is a certain unstated but easily recognizable air of glee and gloating from rivals and competitors. But in this case, the general reaction has been universal sadness. This might be because WI Carr has been a fantastic training ground for many young brokers and bankers who have moved on into higher positions at other firms around the region.

CAI has announced that it intends to maintain a foothold in Asian equities through three areas. It will keep its Japanese research and brokerage activities. It will maintain its electronic brokerage platform called Blink, through which Asian equity product can be traded. And it will maintain a team trading and structuring Asia equity derivatives. All this will now come under the close auspices of the bank's equity division based in Europe called CAI Cheuvreux.

Indosuez WICarr's closure is the latest in a string of smaller European equity houses which have gone to the wall in the cold new world of Asian capital markets. There seems to be no room for small, niche players trying to serve the middle market these days. After Dresdner Bank decided to close its DKW investment banking franchise over the summer, many were looking to see who was to be next. Today we found the answer.