Some soothing words for M&A bankers

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The bottom's not about to fall out of the market, you're not about to lose your job, and someone might even poach you next year.

Admittedly, you may well be screwed at bonus time, but even that's not certain.

While losses mount up and banking bosses have been falling like winged insects, M&A bankers have actually been having quite a good time.

According to figures from Dealogic (quoted in the Financial Times), 500 M&A deals were announced globally last week - the highest weekly figure for the year to date. Bloomberg confirms the festivities: it says a record $3.6 trillion of deals have been announced globally so far in 2007.

It's a stark contrast to 2002, when M&A volumes fell 40% in the third quarter and people with the misfortune to be working in the area were shunted vigorously out of the door. "In 2002 I had 50 junior M&A bankers who'd been fired by various investment banks coming to me looking for work," says William D'Arcy of search firm Stephen Raby Associates. "Those people were forced to leave the market."

D'Arcy predicts the hangover from the 2002 cull means banks will retain the need to recruit in M&A next year: "There's still a lot of hiring to do in the VP and senior associate area - many of the people who would now be at that level were let go five years ago."

Senior staff may also be pursued. Rumour has it Lehman will be looking for at least one managing director in early 2008 and that Merrill and UBS will be building too. Metals and mining sector specialists are said to be most alluring, particularly if they're au fait with Central and Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, wild speculation suggests Barclays Capital may even make a foray into M&A now fixed income isn't what it was.

Were it not for the nasty smell coming from fixed income divisions, pay for M&A bankers would probably be up this year.

As things stand, however, one headhunter says expectations in M&A are being managed downwards "hugely aggressively". He continues: "The message that's going out is that some people will be paid the same as last year, a lot of others will find bonuses cut 50%."

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