DBS, Julius Baer weigh bids for ABN AMRO Asia wealth unit - sources

SINGAPORE/HONG KONG (Reuters) - DBS Group Holdings DBSM.SI and Julius Baer Gruppe BAER.S are weighing bids for Dutch lender ABN AMRO Group's ABNd.AS Asia private banking business that manages about $20 billion in assets, several people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The ABN Amro logo is seen in central London, Britain May 29, 2007. REUTERS/Stephen Hird/File Photo

ABN AMRO, which has hired Lazard Ltd LAZ.N to advise on the sale, could also receive preliminary bids from other wealth managers, the people said, adding that first-round bids are due in the next few weeks.

The sale could fetch between $300 million and $350 million, or 1.50-1.75 percent of assets under management, senior M&A bankers said, citing valuations for similar deals.

The Dutch bank’s plan comes after several Western firms have withdrawn from private banking in Asia, hit by pressure to reduce costs at home, slowing growth in the region and rising compliance costs.

ABN AMRO declined to comment on whether there was a plan to sell the business but said in an emailed statement that it had cut more than 20 jobs in Hong Kong and Singapore in the past few months to make its business more efficient.

The bank, which returned to the stock market in November after seven years in government hands, currently has about 130 bankers to the rich in Asia and the Middle East.

DBS, Julius Baer and Lazard declined to comment. Sources declined to be identified as the talks were confidential.

While some smaller Western wealth managers have left the region, Asia is emerging as a key battleground for firms such as UBS UBSG.S and Credit Suisse CSGN.S as their traditional markets show slower growth and as countries like China and India produce more millionaires.

With nearly 5 million individuals with $1 million in liquid assets, Asia Pacific is the fastest growing wealth region in the world.

Earlier this year, Barclays agreed to sell its wealth and investment management business in Hong Kong and Singapore to a unit of Singapore's Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC) OCBC.SI.

Reporting by Saeed Azhar and Sumeet Chatterjee; Additional reporting by Pamela Barbaglia in LONDON and Joshua Franklin in ZURICH; Editing by Sam Holmes and Edwina Gibbs