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Banks downsize, centralize and head for China

Worldwide, investment banks that grew bloated in the bull run have been shedding staff and pulling in their horns in recent months. But something more fundamental is happening in Asia. The days of having an equity and corporate finance operation in every country in the region are coming to an end and many banks are becoming more centralized, while shifting their focus to the markets of north-east Asia, particularly China.


A stampede of bankers for the airport departure gates in recent months in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines bears witness to a change of Asian strategy among investment banks. Of the 35 foreign-registered brokerages in Manila, 18 have exited the market in the past few months. Among the deserters are HSBC and Merrill Lynch. HSBC has also closed its securities operation in Indonesia and scaled back its corporate finance business in Thailand. Merrill Lynch has pulled out of Indonesia too and is rumoured to be looking to sell Thai Phatra Securities, a $68 million joint venture set up in Thailand just three years ago.

Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein cut its whole equity team in the region by getting rid of 170 staff. Many believe that it is only a matter of time before such houses as ABN Amro, ING Barings and SG follow suit.

It's not just the larger global players that are retrenching.

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