Is this the perfect junior banking job for moving a hedge fund?

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If you're looking to get hired by a bank and then move to a hedge fund, leveraged finance looks like the place to be. Banks are engaged in some big leveraged finance hiring and hedge funds are poaching their junior talent.

Take UBS, which is said to be rebuilding its European leveraged finance team after several exits in 2014. - Or J.P. Morgan, which just hired Cedric Cosquer, a vice president in leveraged finance from 3i private equity. - Or Goldman Sachs, which just hired Serge Majdalani, a leveraged finance associate from Credit Suisse and Franck Rizzoli, an associate with a leveraged finance and structuring background from Standard & Poors. - Or take Mizuho, which just appointed Benjamin Lahnstein, former managing director of high yield capital markets at UBS, as head of high yield, based in London. - BAML, which just rehired Alice ('A.J.') Murphy from Goldman Sachs as global head of leveraged finance after she quit last year.

Credit Suisse, meanwhile, just promoted Mark Walsh to head its European leveraged finance practice after making senior hires late last year.

The rush of recruitment looks a little odd in light of the moribund market for leveraged loans. Data from Dealogic indicates that 2015 has started out strangely quiet for leveraged finance professionals. Year to date, there has been just one leveraged loan in Europe, worth $903m. This time last year, there had been 30 worth $11.7bn. Issuance in the U.S. has dropped by 84% over the same period.

So why are banks taking this opportunity to add leveraged finance talent? Headhunters partly attribute it to optimism. "Things are coming back to life," says the head of one DCM-focused search firm who asked not to be named. "Financial sponsors are doing a lot of portfolio restructuring and refinancing and teams have been run quite lean."

However, the hiring may have more to do with the fact that banks have been leaking junior leveraged finance staff to hedge funds which have stepped into the lending space. "Banks have lost a lot of their junior talent to the buy-side," says Kathryn Pride at search firm Dartmouth Partners. "Non-bank lending has really taken off and the CLO [collateralized loan obligation] market has been reinvigorated. Banks have all lost people to hedge funds and the leveraged finance talent pool has become increasingly stretched as a result."

Another leveraged finance headhunter, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirms that the interesting niche right now is hedge funds with lending teams, which are slowly poaching leveraged financiers from investment banks to staff them.  Funds such as Metric Capital Partners, founded by John Sinik, a former senior leveraged financier at Deutsche Bank, are active in this space - in December Metric hired Philip Dougall, a former leveraged financier who most recently worked for distressed debt investor Sun European Capital.

In turn, banks have been quietly hiring leveraged finance talent from the buy-side for their own internal investment funds. Goldman Sachs, for example, just recruited Jonathon Ferguson from hedge fund Ares Capital Management as head of UK origination in its private capital group. Before joining Ares, Ferguson was an associate director in the financial sponsors group at Barclays.

Despite the sorry state of leveraged loans so far in 2015, the leveraged finance market therefore looks attractive. A background in leveraged finance will get you a job in banking. It will also get you a job in a hedge fund. And it will get you a job in what remains of banks' internal private equity funds. Suddenly, leveraged finance looks a lot like a ticket to some of the most desirable careers in finance.



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