Merrill Lynch has announced that Damian Chunilal has been made head of its Pacific Rim investment banking group heading the origination and marketing functions in Japan, Asia and Australia. Chunilal will be based in Hong Kong.

He comes in to a new role above the existing heads of investment banking and capital markets in Japan, Asia and Australia, all of whom retain their current positions and will report into him. In Hong Kong that means that Merrill's recently appointed triumvirate of leaders, Erh Fei Liu, Sam Poon and KL Wong, will report into him.

Chunilal's position is on a par with that of Osman Semerci who heads the Pacific Rim global markets team from Tokyo and the two will work closely together driving Merrill's franchise in the region.

Chunilal is something of a rising star within the Merrill firmament. He was most recently head of the debt markets issuer client group for Europe, based in London. In this position he was responsible for originating all the financing, structured finance and risk management transactions of Merrill's European, Middle Eastern and African clients.

He held this position for only a year. Until 2002, Chunilal was the head of debt capital markets within the global financial institutions group. In this role he is remembered for developing new forms of regulatory and tax efficient bank capital structures. He joined the firm in 1989 and has worked in London and New York covering sovereigns, corporates and financial institutions.

The announcement was made yesterday in an internal announcement, which coincides with a visit of Merrill Lynch's CEO Stan O'Neal to the bank's Hong Kong offices.

In the Dealogic league tables this year, Merrill has made a stunning comeback from its disappointments of 2002. It is second in the international bond league table (after HSBC). It is also second in the equity league tables in terms of issuance (after Citigroup) and second in terms of aftermarket performance (after BNP Paribas Peregrine). Chunilal is moving to a franchise that clearly has some wind its sails again.