BRUSSELS Franco-Belgian group Dexia SA (DEXI.BR) is in talks on a disposal which will mark the near completion of its dismemberment following its virtual collapse in the wake of the financial crisis.
The group, which had expanded to become world's biggest lender to local authorities before its access to credit dried up and it had to be bailed out by France and Belgium, said it was in exclusive talks on the sale of its asset management unit to a Hong Kong-based investment firm called GCS Capital.
Neither Dexia nor GCS gave many details on the potential deal, but it could be worth about 500 million euros ($653.6 million), according to an industry source and previous reports.
Dexia, whose near failure represented one of Europe's biggest financial crises following the Lehman Brothers collapse, has already sold various units including its Belgian retail arm, its Luxembourg-based unit and its Turkish subsidiary to meet regulatory conditions on the state aid it has received.
The Dexia Asset Management unit had 78.7 billion euros of assets under management at the end of June 2012, according to its website. Dexia did not disclose a timeframe in which it expected the sale to be completed.
France and Belgium in November jointly provided 5.5 billion euros ($7.2 billion) of capital to Dexia in its third bailout since 2008 and took near complete control of the group.
Stripped of most of its businesses, Dexia faces a future as a rump holding company of bonds and loans in "run-off", or not attracting new business, still underpinned by state guarantees to support its funding.
In November, Dexia Chief Executive Karel De Boeck told Belgian media the group would make a loss of about 1 billion euros next year, but it should not need to draw on all the state guarantees it had been offered.
GCS Capital is a newly launched Hong Kong investment firm with offices in London and Beijing. Founding partner Huan Guocang was formerly chairman of Asia-focused private equity firm Primus Pacific Partners and before that was head of Asia Pacific investment banking at HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA.L).
Neither its website nor Tuesday's press release indicates how much capital the firm has under management. A spokesman representing GCS Capital declined to elaborate.
The asset management sale is unlikely to raise a significant amount for Dexia's state owners, if only because any buyer would be aware the unit has to be sold and there are other assets on the market in the same sector.
"There are plenty of sellers in the market and those who are left with any cash know this," said analyst Dirk Peeters at KBC Securities.
Reuters reported in June that Dexia was seeking to sell the unit for about 750 million euros, though that price is likely to have dropped.
Valuing the unit is difficult since fund managers are tough to attach a price tag to, even in the strongest of markets. Valuations could range from 1.5 percent of assets for a low- quality private wealth manager, to up to 10 percent for a top-end alternative investment or hedge fund manager.
Dexia shares were up 1 cent at 0.10 euros on Tuesday morning, having collapsed from a May 2007 high of 22.30 euros.
HSBC is advising GCS Capital in connection with the Dexia Asset Management purchase.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Aldred and Lawrence White, with Sinead Cruise and Steve Slater in London; Editing by David Holmes)