CHICAGO - Merrill Lynch & Co. has scooped up nearly 30 public finance bankers from the ranks of the now-shuttered municipal group at UBS Securities LLC - taking advantage of a "once-in-a-decade opportunity" as its Wall Street neighbors shed staff to cope with subprime market-related losses, the firm's municipal chairman said.

Other Wall Street and regional firms have stepped in to make strategic hires in certain markets and sectors from among the ranks of professionals fired by UBS and other firms, but none as aggressive or significant in size as Merrill.

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