It looks as if Tom Kurlak has finally found a friendly face.

Julian Robertson's

Tiger Capital Management

hedge fund has lured away

Merrill Lynch

analyst Thomas Kurlak as a managing director leading the firm's technology research group. Kurlak, whose departure from Merrill is effective immediately, is expected to join Tiger later this month.

The stubborn and combative Kurlak has been one of the most respected semiconductor analysts on the Street and was the longtime

Ax on

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

until he failed to foresee the recovery of the semiconductor industry in the second half of last year.

He covered nine stocks at Merrill, including

Advanced Micro Devices

(AMD) - Get Report

, and

Micron

(MU) - Get Report

. A spokeswoman said the firm would make an announcement "soon" about who will take over coverage from Kurlak. Meanwhile the stocks are under review, she said.

As the Intel ax, Kurlak was one of Merrill's top stars, and chip investors would buy and sell whenever Kurlak changed his ratings.

Kurlak has been beating Intel stock down since 1994, when the stock was trading in the teens. He did so again three years later, and partly as a result, the stock struggled through much of 1996. In August 1997, he changed his intermediate-term rating on Intel from accumulate to neutral, which was applauded later that year and into 1998, when the stock languished over the next 12 months, ending with his long term downgrade from accumulate to neutral in August 1998.

That's when the trouble began for Kurlak. Because in September, Intel stock -- trading at around 71 -- began to go up and it didn't stop until it hit 140 on Jan. 29. Meanwhile, sell-side rival Mark Edelstone of

Morgan Stanley

began pounding the table for the chip maker. Kurlak finally acknowledged the recovery on Dec. 23, when he changed his rating from intermediate and long term neutral back to accumulate. By then the stock had reached 123, which meant that those Merrill clients who had waited on his word had missed out on a 73% rise.

Understandably, the faithful was not pleased. "He has been wrong for the past three or four years," said L. Roy Papp, head of the

L. Roy Papp Stock Fund

, which has been an Intel shareholder for years. "It has hurt him and it has hurt the customers of Merrill Lynch. It isn't a surprise they are parting company."

Tiger founder and Chairman Julian Robertson said, "Tom Kurlak is one of the most influential analysts on Wall Street. He and Merrill Lynch have been great friends of Tiger. Tom has had a distinguished career on the sellside and we are thrilled he will continue his career with us on the buyside."

Kurlak couldn't be immediately reached for comment. But in a statement from the hedge fund, he said, "For 20 years, I have dispensed advice. Now I look forward to implementing it with this new opportunity."

In terms of how this will affect semiconductor stocks, the hedge fund manager says: "Intel has lost a prominent bear who's publishing, but the buy side has gained a prominent bear with a large position on Intel, so you never know." Kurlak has been ranked in

Institutional Investor

since 1980, and has been ranked the top semiconductor analyst there for the past three years, according to a Merrill spokeswoman.

--Dagen McDowell contributed to this report.