The joy of working for Jefferies (and Rothschild, and Moelis & Co.)

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With European M&A volumes down nearly 58% year on year in the first nine months of 2009, now may not be the best of times to be building a pure M&A business on the Continent. This message has, however, yet to filter through to Moelis & Co., the US M&A boutique which is setting up in London (and may, we surmise, be hiring). Nor is it discouraging Rothschild, which has been recruiting Lehman FIG bankers.

Independent US investment bank Jefferies has also been shopping for staff and has doubled its UK headcount in the past two years. Undeterred by four straight quarters of losses, it's been adding both investment bankers and fixed income sales and trading professionals - this despite the fact that fixed income sales and trading is about as moribund as Goldman Sachs' $200 oil forecast.

Desperation aside, there are compelling reasons for joining a smaller investment bank, at this juncture. And they are:

· Pay. Despite four consecutive quarters of losses, Jefferies has set aside $783m to pay its 2,403 bankers this year. At an average of $326k per head, this ranks only marginally behind the $351k Goldman has set aside for each of its bankers year-to-date.

Rothschild is also known for remunerating its senior bankers handsomely - last year, its average employee earned 286k, which looks generous just so long as you don't need to convert it into dollars or euros.

· Beat the rush. As large banks trim their M&A teams, more and more people will seek solace in something resembling a boutique. And opportunities at smaller houses are, by their nature, fewer.

· Small firms are being pummelled, too. Last week, Greenhill revealed an $11.7m loss and said its advisory revenues were down 68%. It would take a very, very opportunistic mindset indeed for small firms to continue hiring if things get worse.

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