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Epoch-breaking events

Goldman Sachs has acquired useful data-mining technology and a potentially lucrative distribution agreement with online retail brokers TD Waterhouse and Charles Schwab. The irony is that these are the viable remnants of a venture that was designed to cut into the equity origination and distribution business of the likes of Goldman. Antony Currie reports on the rapid rise and fall of Epoch Partners, a great idea whose execution was predicated on a persistent bull market

It wasn't meant to end like this. In fact, it wasn't meant to end at all. Epoch Partners was supposed to open up access to share offerings for retail investors and smaller institutional investors. Its investors included three of the largest US online retail brokerages looking for better access to deal flow, and three of the most aggressive venture-capital firms determined to have a greater say in when and how their investments went public. It was a marriage of two constituencies that had played a big part in driving the boom in the US economy during the latter half of the 1990s. The traditional investment banks, it was supposed, would be worried by the challenge.

But by mid-June, 19 months after launch, Epoch Partners was a dismembered corpse. More than half its staff had been sacked, Schwab Capital Markets picked up the quant trading team, and the rest, mainly in technology development and support, are moving to the firm that bought the rest of Epoch.

That firm is Goldman Sachs, one of the traditional players in the market that Epoch was trying to compete in. Goldman doesn't need the bankers, is taking just a couple of analysts, and is in effect buying retail distribution and some smart technology.

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