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Macquarie goes mainstream

Macquarie has steered a profitable course, avoiding head-on confrontation with global competition through niche strategies. So its acquisition of ING?s Asian cash equities business is puzzling. Can it succeed where ING failed or could this mark the unravelling of the Macquarie miracle? Chris Leahy reports

Your view of Macquarie, if indeed you are in any way familiar with its chameleon-like financial sprawl, is coloured by where in the world you sit. In its Australian backyard, Macquarie is a full-service investment bank providing financial market trading and advisory products and services. Outside Australia, however, the bank focuses on selected business areas.

The range and disparity of Macquarie's international businesses is noteworthy. It has vast investments in road toll projects in Korea, in airports globally and in energy utilities in Canada. It trades derivatives in Hong Kong, Brazil and South Africa. It markets structured products in agricultural commodities worldwide and has developed risk management solutions for the oil industry in the US.

In addition to the usual corporate finance advisory, institutional stockbroking and equities research, Macquarie's investment banking group includes infrastructure and specialist funds management. Its property and banking group runs its own property investment banking operation. Fund management concentrates on distribution of branded products in selected local markets. The equities markets group concentrates solely on risk arbitrage and market making in derivatives where it usually enjoys significant market share.

On paper it sounds like a business structure designed to promote political infighting, blurred reporting lines and dangerous conflicts of interest.

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