Updated from 11:53 a.m. EDT

Morgan Stanley ( MS) was the top M&A adviser in the first quarter, coming back after a tenth place finish in 2008, according to preliminary rankings from Thomson Reuters.

The rankings, known as league tables, are widely followed and debated, as banks look for some hard data to attempt to sell their expertise to corporate clients. Other data providers such as Bloomberg and Dealogic produce similar rankings, slicing and dicing the data every which way so they can sell it to banks. Each bank combs over the data looking for a way to make itself look good.

Goldman Sachs ( GS), a perennial leader in league tables, fell to fourth place, according to the data.

JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) was in second place in the ranking and Citigroup ( C) came in third.

Morgan Stanley's ranking was boosted by its role in large pharmaceutical deals, such as Pfizer's ( PFE) acquisition of Wyeth ( WYE).

Morgan Stanley also worked with Citi, Credit Suisse ( CS) Deutsche Bank ( DB) and UBS ( UBS) on the U.K. government's $44.1 billion investment in Royal Bank of Scotland Group ( RBS).

Richard Bove, analyst at Rochdale Securities, says the numbers are not representative of which advisors are the most important, because they give equal credit to advisors even though in many cases one does 70% of the work of several others do 5% each.

"It is a public relations gimmick, the numbers are put together incorrectly, and who knows whether the client really cares one way or the other," Bove says.

One former investment banker who now advises large corporations in their dealings with investment banks says companies see through all this data manipulation, but they do want to see evidence banks they are considering hiring are in the market working on several active deals.

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