Merrill Lynch & Co. is raiding Chemical Banking Corp.'s loan syndication group, seeking to hire five seasoned professionals at well over twice their current salaries, sources said.

A Merrill spokesman confirmed Friday that the firm had already hired Chemical veterans Jack Yang, Harold Siegel, and Sandra Anceleitz. The status of the other two was unclear late Friday.

Chemical declined to comment.

The Merrill move was the latest in a recent series of attacks and counterattacks on the hiring front, as commercial and investment banks go after each other's business.

Just as commercial banks are seeking to build up their securities subsidiaries by hiring away Wall Street talent, investment banks are luring commercial bankers with fat salaries as they seek to gain a foothold in the loan origination and syndication business.

In addition to Merrill, several other investment banks are pursuing the loan business, including Lehman Brothers and CS First Boston.

Their goal is the same - to gain the ability to finance all levels of the client's balance sheet.

Last week, for example, CS First Boston hired Chemical banker Robert O'Brien to be managing director in the lever-aged finance group. He will report to Mark Patterson, head of the group, who was hired away from Bankers Trust earlier this year.

Chase Manhattan Corp., meanwhile, recently hired several First Boston managers to fill key posts in its high-yield bond department.

The five Chemical bankers wooed by Merrill Lynch are described by banking sources as seasoned professionals but not stars. The departure of all five would be a blow to the bank, they said, but by no means a crippling one.

Chemical was said to have been unwilling to match the Merrill salary offers.

The five bankers are thought to earn between $250,000 and $350,000, including bonuses, at Chemical. Merrill is said to have offered as much as $750,000 to $850,000 to at least one of the five.

The Merrill spokesman declined to comment on salaries.

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