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August 31, 2002

Another Try for Dealer After Merrill Split

By Peter Chapman

The rebirth of a Minneapolis boutique has the trading rooms in the City of Lakes in flux.

Craig-Hallum Capital Group recently restarted operations after the failure of its year-old merger with a group of ex-Merrill Lynch staffers. The two groups formed ThinkEquity in the spring of 2001, a national investment bank focused on growth stocks.

The merger recently unraveled with the exodus of the original 23 Craig-Hallum staffers. Physically, that group didn't get far, though. The new Craig-Hallum is based in the same building - the Piper Jaffray Tower - that housed ThinkEquity.

Craig-Hallum, which was founded in 1997 to underwrite and promote regional small-caps, will start making markets in 25 Nasdaq stocks this month. The roster will grow to 60 by yearend, according to market maker Chris Wilson. Wilson, fellow market maker Mike Spinner and sales traders Joe Geelan and Mike Qualen comprise the trading desk. Two more will join soon, according to Wilson.

Wilson says he expects Craig-Hallum's volume to eventually equal that of ThinkEquity's. ThinkEquity traded an average 17.2 million shares per month in the first half of the year, placing it at about 110 in the rankings, according to Nasdaq.

ThinkEquity's trading room was left empty following the departure of Wilson and his colleagues, but was quickly repopulated. The new crew includes market makers Benjamin Anger, the former head of OTC trading at Melvin Specialists, and Steve Dragos, previously with U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray.

On the sales trading side are Bill Dailey, formerly with ABN AMRO, and David Leslie and Rob McClanahan, both from Piper. All told five staffers left Piper for ThinkEquity, including two institutional salespeople.