The party hats are out at Merrill Lynch. Quentin Hills, Citibank's regional head of structured products and investor marketing, has resigned to join the US investment bank. The move signals Merrill's determination to rebuild a presence in Asia's domestic debt capital markets.

The urbane Kiwi, who first came to Asia six-and-a-half years ago, established Citibank's derivatives operations in the region and has been credited for helping to build the bank's formidable reputation in domestic currency markets. His new appointment will not only fire a shot across the bows of his old employer but also of Deutsche Bank and HSBC Markets, which have both been competing strongly for dominance in the sector.

Hills will fulfill a similar role by running Merrill's regional structured solutions group. Based in Hong Kong, he will report to global head Jamshid Ehsani as well as Richard Huston, Merrill's Tokyo-based head of fixed income Asia-Pacific, including Australia.

Hills, who is renowned for spinning around Hong Kong in his black Porsche, began his career at Citibank in Australia 11 years ago. His new role at Merrill fits in with a recent reorganization at the bank, which has seen trading operations centralized in Tokyo, while sales and origination is being spread out from Hong Kong around the rest of the region. As Huston explains: "Our strategy is to become more involved in the domestic markets. We have long-standing joint ventures in Thailand and India, and are in the process of building up capacity in Singapore."

Huston says the bank aims to become more active in Korea, too. "We are quite unique in already having a physical presence in the Republic, with an investment banking division based there," he points out.

At Citibank, Hills' role will largely be filled by John Pitfield, who is relocating from Hong Kong to Singapore to run the bank's regional domestic debt capital markets group.