Merrill Lynch has announced plans to have a prime brokerage relationship management presence in Singapore. It follows in the footsteps of several of its competitors who have sent prime brokerage staff to Singapore in response to that cityÆs growing stature as a domicile for hedge funds.

To initiate its Singapore beachhead, Merrill has sent managing director John Eisenberg from Tokyo to open the new shop.

Simultaneously, Merrill prime brokerage on the trading side has hired director Mark Wallace from Morgan Stanley and VP Manish Ghia from Lehman. They will be based in Hong Kong. Plus, trading has picked up VP Michael Witzenfeld from Bank of America and associate Yoshinori Hayashi from UBS. They will be based in Tokyo. All four will report to Brian Caniffe, managing director of global markets financing and services.

Also joining in Hong Kong are Diana Yang from the NYSE and Ben Williams from Bloomberg. They will both report to Harvey Twomey, director and head of Pacific Rim prime brokerage sales..

In a style akin to the Ostrogoths overrunning the Roman Empire, Melvyn FordÆs Merrill Lynch prime brokerage unit is marauding into the Morgan Stanley/Goldman Sachs prime brokerage Asia duopoly. Recently the team has brought home the bacon in the form of some show-stopping mandates, such as the future Abax Capital launch in Hong Kong.

MerrillÆs is getting a reputation for being able to access on behalf of hedge funds, and provide margin finance for exotic deals, such as those in the illiquid special situation space.

Sylvan Chakman, New York-based Merrill Lynch managing director and co-head of global markets and services, says: ôHedge funds donÆt just want market-access products and leverage. They seek a broad array of alpha-generating products and permanent capital financing. The ability to provide these differentiates prime brokers today.ö