Last year Merrill Lynch was the most profitable foreign investment bank in Japan, according to figures released by the Japanese Ministry of Finance. It has now invested some of that money in several new hires in domestic equity sales.

Daizo Hasegawa joins from UFJ Tsubasa Securities, but has also worked for Lehman Brothers and Okasan Securities in a 14-year career. Another veteran of Okasan Securities is Akemi Ota who is also joining the firm's equity sales team.

Joining from Mizuho Securities is Osamu Ito. At Mizuho, Ito covered domestic long only investors and hedge funds. Merrill is also moving Yusuke Thomas Aiba from its relationship management department to equity sales.

The firm is also boosting its client marketing group division. This is the team that ran the 2004 New Dawn Conference, which saw 1,000 investors from all over the world come to Japan to hear about the opportunities in the Japanese market. Kumi Okuyama is joining this team from Nomura, where she worked as a consultant in investment banking.

Since the low point of Merrill's failed purchase of Yamaichi, the firm has gone from strength to strength in Japan. It is a fully incorporated local securities firm, rather than a branch of an overseas bank. And from its shiny new building in Nihonbashi, it is the master of all it surveys.

"In 2004, we made considerable progress toward further bolstering our Japanese equity sales and research franchise," says Nigel Beattie, head of Pacific Rim equity at Merrill Lynch. "Boosted by strategic hires in Tokyo, London, and New York, we have enhanced our standing notably with almost all of our major clients, particularly on the international front.

"Going forward," he adds, "one of our key initiatives is to focus on making new inroads into the domestic account base in Japan. Today's appointments are part of this effort, and we look forward to strengthening and growing our franchise even further in the future."