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RBS joy for (some) ECM bankers

RBS’ rights issue is big business for the FIG bankers who get to work on it. It won’t do much for other ECM types though.

This morning, RBS finally came out of the closet and confirmed it’s contemplating raising 10bn to help shore up a balance sheet depleted by the acquisition of ABN AMRO and an alleged 7bn of writedowns.

Salad days are definitely coming for the financial institutions group (FIG) bankers who get to work on the RBS deal. Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs are likely to be front of the fee queue, although the FT points out that the deal is so huge that “almost every bank still in the business” will need to be involved in underwriting it.

But while the RBS begging bowl will provide rich pickings for lucky FIG bankers, other ECM bankers are looking increasingly emaciated.

With London-based IPOs down 90% in Q1, most are twiddling their thumbs.

“It’s pretty horrendous out there,” says one ECM-focused headhunter. “In London, ECM hiring has pretty much ground to a halt. Market activity is negligible and a lot of teams are sitting nervously.”

“Hiring has pretty much closed down across investment banking, and ECM is one part of that,” confirms Jason Kennedy of recruiters Kennedy Associates. “It’s a relationship-driven business – you can’t screw the client by forcing a deal through in a difficult environment, or you won’t work in the space again.”

The no-IPO pain is already being felt at boutique firms, with Evolution, the small to mid-cap City brokerage firm, said to have cut 10% of its staff.

“The IPO pipeline is pretty moribund,” confirms one senior ECM banker at a boutique. “There aren’t that many businesses looking to raise money in these markets – although the banking sector is proving the exception.”

He adds that for the RBS rights issue to be accepted by shareholders it will need to be priced at a substantial discount to existing shares, making it all the more likely that the deal will go through and the banks (and bankers) involved will get paid.

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