The Search for Telecom Pros

Poaching telecom analysts has become a favorite sport on Wall Street in recent weeks, as investment banks stalk the small number of high-profile analysts in one of the hottest sectors of 2000.

Chase H&Q became the latest firm to take home big game earlier this month when it bagged wireless telecom analyst Tom Lee from Salomon Smith Barney. The loss comes at a difficult point for Solly, which is currently in registration with two wireless IPOs and is hoping to land a top position in the spin-off of AT&T Corp.'s wireless unit.

But the firm is hardly alone in its telecom research lurch, as Lee's departure comes barely a month after a seven-member research team defected from Merrill Lynch & Co. to Credit Suisse First Boston, and weeks after Merrill poached a four-member team from SG Cowen.

The timing of Lee's departure is particularly ironic for Salomon, sources said, in light of the fact that the firm's ace telecom analyst, Jack Grubman, recently upgraded his longstanding recommendation on AT&T to a buy - a move that certainly didn't hurt Salomon's chances in the competition for the spin-off business when it goes public.

But the firm could feel the sting of Lee's departure in the two wireless IPOs it has in registration. In one, Alamosa PCS Holdings Inc., Salomon is the lead underwriter, with co-manager CSFB and Deutsche Banc Alex Brown. In the other, for Dobson Communications Corp., it is a co-manager with Lehman Brothers in the lead.