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Here comes Merrill again

Not for the first time, Merrill Lynch is making a push into forex. While the competitors sit back and wait for it to fail, Merrill insists that it will become a top-ranking firm. Katie Astbury reports.

Foreign exchange bankers with a long memory could be forgiven for thinking they are in a time warp. 

Merrill Lynch is building up its forex operations. It says it is committed to the business. It is hiring people, building up its client base and generally making a push into a market in which, frankly, it doesn't have much excuse for being so weak in the first place. And it has shot up through the rankings in the Euromoney poll.

But this is not 1997, when Merrill Lynch built up its forex business and ranked third for overall market share, having come in at 24th the previous year. After that startling success, it gradually slipped right back.

This is 2003, when it has jumped up to 11th for market share, at 2.98% of the total. This time it says everything will be different. It is here for the long haul. And it is going for the top slots in 2004. One thing is for sure: if it is wrong this time, Merrill is going to be a laughing stock.

"Has Merrill Lynch tried this before? Absolutely," admits Michael DeSa, the bank's global head of forex, who was brought into the firm in November 2001 having built Deutsche Bank's forex franchise up practically from scratch.

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