UPDATE 1-St James's Place says close to Asian acquisition

Tue Feb 25, 2014 3:44am EST

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By Chris Vellacott

LONDON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - British investment manager St James's Place plans to mark its new-found independence since majority owner Lloyds Banking Group sold out last year with an acquisition in Asia.

Chief Executive David Bellamy said the company was at an advanced stage in buying Henley Group, an advisory business with around 400 million pounds ($665 million) under management and 4,000 expatriate clients in Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai.

"It's near completion though there are different regulators to take through the process," he said, without disclosing the financial terms of the transaction.

Bellamy said the move marked a tentative first step in a possible long-term expansion overseas and other regions with large British expatriate communities such as the Middle East could be targeted in future if the Asian venture was successful.

"This is the start of something. We are deliberately taking a step, but gently, gently. There might be some unforeseen hurdles which might slow us down. On the other hand, if it goes really well, who knows?" he said.

St James's Place, which sells investments to a well-heeled British clientele and outsources the running of a range of mutual funds to hand-picked external managers, was until last year 60 percent-owned by Lloyds.

The lender sold its stake throughout 2013, placing the last of its holding in December.

Tuesday's announcement came as the company published a strong set of annual earnings, a 50 percent increase in its 2013 dividend and flagged a likely further 30-40 percent hike in 2014.

Underlying cash was up more than two thirds and new business profit was up nearly a fifth at 327 million pounds, the company said.

"An excellent set of final results for 2013, with each of the key embedded value metrics close to or ahead of our forecasts," said Shore Capital Stockbrokers in a note.

St James's Place shares were up nearly 4 percent in early trading.

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