If you want to work in Middle East restructuring, it’s worth applying to a Big Four accounting firm

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While most investment banking work has been thin on the ground in recent years, debt restructuring was tipped to be something of a bonanza. In recent years boutique firms moved to the region specifically to focus on this area. Unfortunately, the work never materialised.

For any investment bankers with specific expertise in this area who wish to remain in the Middle East, working for a Big Four accounting firm may be a wiser option. They tend to focus on the smaller deals and are winning the bulk of mandates rather than leading investment banks, which many local companies have deemed too expensive.

“If you asked me three years ago, I would have said that the Gulf was a goldmine for restructuring, but that hasn’t proved to be the case,” one banker told the FT. “It’s not a main focus like it might be in Europe.”

Part of the reason for the lack of restructuring activity is because state-owned companies have been bailed out by state-controlled banks. And these regional banks are also reluctant to enforce full-scale restructurings.

The one positive for investment banks is that, after years in the doldrums, investment banks are instead focusing on M&A and refinancing opportunities, suggests one local banker.

The M&A market is finally improving; August was the best month for years and year to date the volume of deals is 37% up on 2011, according to figures from Dealogic. In total, 368 deals worth $19.5bn have been completed in 2012, but this is still a long way off the $31.1bn announced in 2007.

JP Morgan is leading the league tables, ahead of Barclays and NBK Capital.