DSP Merrill Lynch, the Merrill Lynch investment banking arm in India, yesterday made a high profile hire when it brought on board Munesh Khanna in the role of head of investment banking. This is the latest in a series of moves by Merrill to increase its presence and coverage in India, a market in which the US firm has an established presence and considerable brand equity. The hire is especially significant because it marks Amit Chandra, current head of investment banking and managing director, moving into a global markets and proprietary investments role.

The move is KhannaÆs third in less then 12 months, a reflection more then anything of how hot job markets in investment banking in the country currently are. In November, 2005 Khanna resigned as country head and managing director of NM Rothschild (a position he had held since 2002) to take on the role of head of investment banking at Enam Financial Consultants. Khanna announced his resignation from Enam in June. Speculation has been rife that he was interviewing with Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch as all three are currently on a hiring spree in India. When contacted Khanna confirmed the move.

Chandra took over as sole head of investment banking at DSP Merrill Lynch when Rajeev Gupta left the firm in June 2005 to head CarlyleÆs private equity business in the country. Chandra is a career Merrill banker and is widely perceived as having established very strong relationships in the country which have stood Merrill Lynch in good stead in becoming one of IndiaÆs leading investment banking players. In December, 2005 Merrill Lynch reiterated its commitment to investment banking in India by increasing its 40 percent ownership interest in DSP Merrill Lynch to 90% with the stated intent "to continue to build its important presence as one of the leading securities firms in India".

A banker we spoke to speculated that ChandraÆs being moved out of this role - which he is reckoned to have performed very well - could signal that Merrill is keen to increase its principal investing in the country and now wants Chandra to lead this charge and replicate his earlier success. If this is the case Merrill will be following Goldman Sachs lead, which has already announced its intention to commit $1 billion to principal investing in India.