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Rediscovering the value of conventional debt business

As some banks – and a tiny few aspirant young bankers – have realized, there’s good business to be built in the out-of-fashion traditional investment-grade debt capital markets.

Debt capital markets investment bankers assembling at Euromoney’s two-day forum for global issuers and investors in London at the end of last month would have been unhappy had they listened in on one panel discussion. The talk turned to the difficulty of attracting talent into the conventional high-grade debt business of issuing bonds for investment-grade corporate and agency borrowers and distributing them to conventional investors.

What was once, at the start of this decade, the cutting edge of the investment banking business, when firms were key intermediaries for issuers in the capital markets, has been over-shadowed in recent years not just by M&A and equity capital markets, the traditional marquee investment banking businesses, but by principal investing, prop trading and, even within the debt universe, by leveraged finance and structured credit.

The story was told of a senior DCM banker addressing his firm’s most recent graduate intake and asking, at the end of his talk, for a show of hands from those interested to pursue a career in investment-grade debt capital markets. From 50 people in the audience, there rose just one faltering arm.

Is that graduate the slowest of his class or is he, perhaps, one to keep a close eye on?

At first glance, one might be forgiven for thinking the volunteer will not survive long in the cut-throat world of investment banking.

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