NEW YORK Australia's Macquarie Group Ltd (MQG.AX) has emerged as the lead bidder to buy Robeco, four people familiar with the matter said this week. The asset management arm of Dutch bank Rabobank NV RABN.UL could fetch around 3 billion euros ($3.96 billion), one of the sources said.
The Netherlands' largest retail bank also received a bid for Robeco from Japanese financial services firm Orix Corp (8591.T) for all of Robeco.
Orix is also still in the running, the sources said.
As of September 30, Robeco's assets under management totaled 188 billion euros ($248 billion).
Rabobank had told prospective buyers that it wants to sell the business as a whole, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because the deal talks were confidential.
A Rabobank spokesman confirmed that the bank is considering "all strategic options regarding Robeco," but declined to elaborate. A spokeswomen for Macquarie declined to comment. A representative at Orix did not respond to requests for comment.
Rabobank put Robeco for sale in the spring after it lost its triple-A credit rating from Standard & Poor's last year and sought to prepare for stricter capital rules, joining a wave of European banks looking to sell their asset management units to raise capital.
Last week Dexia signed an agreement to sell Dexia Asset Management to GCS Capital for 380 million euros ($496 million).
Macquarie has been aggressively trying to grow its investment management business through acquisitions since the financial crisis. The firm's CEO, Nicholas Moore, has said that asset management is an area where the Australian bank wants to expand its presence.
In 2010, Macquarie bought U.S.-based Delaware Investments, a $300 billion asset manager for $428 million. The firm also looked at Deutsche Bank's asset management business and Franco-Belgian Bank Dexia's (DEXI.BR) asset management unit when those businesses were being sold.
Other bidders for Robeco initially included a private equity consortium of Advent International and CVC Capital Partners CVC.UL as well as private equity firm Permira PERM.UL and Boston-based asset manager AMG Inc (AMG.N). It was unclear if any of these entities are still involved in the bidding.
Spokeswomen for CVC and AMG declined to comment. Representatives for Advent and Permira did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
It could not be determined when Rabobank would announce a buyer for the business.
While several banks have tried to sell their asset management units over the past few years as a way to raise capital, not all such attempts have been successful.
For example, Deutsche Bank failed to sell its asset management unit this year after coming close to a deal with Guggenheim Partners.
Similarly, in 2010, Italian bank Unicredit (CRDI.MI) abandoned efforts to sell Pioneer Investments.
These attempts failed for a variety of reasons, including the European debt crisis that has affected valuations.
Many asset management subsidiaries of banks also rely on the parent to sell products. Without that distribution, it is hard for some buyers to figure out what the subsidiaries are worth, said John Temple, president of Cambridge International Partners.
Temple believes 2013 will be a slow year for asset management deals out of Europe.
"The U.S. market may pick up, but I do not see that happening in Europe," he said.
(Reporting by Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Alden Bentley and Lisa Von Ahn)