Is this the year for internal transfers?

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Rather than hiring brand new staff, expect banks to spend more time reassigning the ones they've already got.

This, at least, is the verdict of Australia's biggest M&A hitters. Anthony Sweetman, head of M&A at UBS, which last year ranked first in Thomson Financial's league of M&A deals, says a "huge" hiring drive for M&A isn't on the cards in 2008.

Instead, Sweetman predicts banks will shift staff into hot areas: "Banks will move people internally into busier sectors, say, resources, rather than necessarily hiring for the [new] positions."

Dealmaking in the natural resources sector has been hiked by BHP Billiton's 75bn bid for Rio Tinto, and is likely to stay strong as the sector's giants swallow its many minnows.

Sweetman says sales forced by debt should help sustain Australian M&A activity more broadly in 2008: ''We won't see as many $2bn-plus private equity transactions,'' he says, "but across the board, M&A levels should still be reasonable this year."

Not everyone agrees that 2008 will be the year of the internal transfer, however. Jules Orpen at headhunter Heidrich & Struggles says M&A hiring is "fairly robust. We are still hiring right across the M&A spectrum, from analysts, through associates to managing directors."

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