Party over for M&A hires?

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Is the alcohol running dry at the M&A jamboree? Yes, according to headhunters.

"Banks are generally tightening their belts," says John Axworthy, head of investment banking and private equity at search firm Akamai Financial Markets. "It's partly the time of year - but the brakes are being applied early, particularly in M&A. Banks believe we are coming close to the top of the cycle and are very conscious of hiring too many people as they did in 1999 and 2000."

Another M&A-focused headhunter agrees: "There are just not that many seats left empty and everyone's quite nervous about how long markets are going to carry on at this level."

Lehman, which was one of the big M&A hirers last year, is said to have finished recruiting. Bear Stearns and HSBC are still in the market for senior M&A talent, but aren't drawing in big numbers.

Recruiters say senior M&A professionals are demanding long guarantees, which is discouraging twitchy banks from making any moves. "Hiring is still taking place but bankers have to go through a lot more justification before they can make a hire," says Axworthy. "Technically it's always been the case that hiring at US banks had to go through New York, but until recently that was just a technicality. Now there's no guarantee new hires will be approved."

The latest hiring study from recruitment firm Morgan McKinley confirms a slowdown may be in the air - vacancy numbers fell 3% between May and June. Chief executive Robert Thesiger said "minor seasonal adjustments" are taking place as banks review their hiring requirements for the rest of the year.

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