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Sumitomo Mitsui on the hunt for Asian bank, partner for US deals

SUMITOMO MITSUI Financial Group, Inc. is seeking to buy an Asian lender and team up with a global investment bank on US dealmaking, signaling its expansion plans remain undeterred by the pandemic.

Japan’s second-biggest bank is “studying specific targets” in Vietnam, the Philippines and India, Chief Executive Officer Jun Ohta said in an interview. It wants to find a partner to underwrite equity and bond sales in the US and elsewhere, after the lender was unable to fully take advantage of a corporate financing boom this year, he said.

The plans underscore how Sumitomo Mitsui is looking beyond the coronavirus-fueled recession to grow abroad, with rock-bottom interest rates and a shrinking population likely to hamper prospects at home for years to come.

“It may not immediately lead to a profit increase, but we’re going to buy what will provide a business platform in emerging countries from a long-term perspective,” Ohta said, explaining the rationale behind buying commercial banks in Asia. He didn’t identify the companies on his list of potential targets.

Sumitomo Mitsui is the most likely of Japan’s three so-called megabanks to purchase an Asian lender. Larger rival Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc. recently said its acquisition phase is over after spending about $15 billion on banks in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. Mizuho Financial Group, Inc. has indicated a lack of interest in buying Asian banks with physical branches.

Just a year ago, Sumitomo Mitsui failed in a bid for Indonesia’s PT Bank Permata, which was acquired by Bangkok Bank Pcl.

“It was very painful to miss out on Permata,” Mr. Ohta said, adding “we are thinking about the next move.” Sumitomo Mitsui already owns PT Bank BTPN in the Southeast Asian nation.

The Tokyo-based bank is “studying various ways” to enter the industry in India, Mr. Ohta said, even as lenders there struggle with mounting bad loans. Asked about Indian authorities’ recent decision to allow a foreign bank to take over a local lender, he said that since the move was designed to rescue troubled ones, potential targets need to be carefully examined for whether they can be turned around.

“The conditions aren’t great in India now, but that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on the country, given its growth potential,” he said. Sumitomo Mitsui has three branches in the nation.

He also said the bank’s 15% stake in Eximbank of Vietnam won’t be an obstacle to a possible acquisition of another lender in the country.

Shares of Sumitomo Mitsui fell 0.8% in Tokyo on Tuesday morning, taking this year’s decline to 22%, broadly in line with its two local rivals.

While Mr. Ohta said the bank also needs to consider acquisitions to boost its overseas investment banking business, he believes a more immediate solution is a tie-up with a big securities firm.

Such an arrangement would involve Sumitomo Mitsui offering loans in exchange for a bigger role in bond and stock underwriting, he said. Large investment banks capitalized on a rush to tap global equity and debt capital markets this year, exposing a weakness at Sumitomo Mitsui, he said, adding that boosting mergers advisory business is another challenge to address.

“We might even be able to team up with a bulge-bracket” firm, Mr. Ohta said, referring to an industry term for big investment banks. “We haven’t formed any specific plans yet, but some might be interested.” — Bloomberg

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