Biggest bank in Japan eyes overseas buys

City A.M. Reporter
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), Japan’s biggest bank by assets, is looking to buy a 15 to 20 per cent stake in a bank in South Korea, Australia or Indonesia to tap the region’s growing economy, a senior executive has revealed.

Tatsuo Tanaka, chief executive of global banking at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, the firm’s core banking unit, said yesterday that the bank was also eyeing five to seven midsize and 10-20 small US banks for possible acquisitions.

He added that the bank would wait for more clarity on Basel III capital rules before it goes after a bigger bank.

“In Asia, we are always looking for a target. Not necessarily to acquire but to take a stake,” Tanaka said. “We want to build relationships first as we search for a target.”

MUFG and its domestic rivals Mizuho Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group have been stepping up their overseas expansion in the face of weak growth prospects at home.

Japanese banks emerged from the global financial crisis less scathed than some of their western rivals, but their main lending activities remain sluggish as businesses and households curtail spending amid economic uncertainty.

Earlier this month, Mizuho, Japan’s second-largest bank, said it was looking to acquire commercial banks in Asia to expand in the fast-growing region, while expressing little interest in buying a US bank.

Tanaka, 61, joined the Bank of Tokyo in 1973, rising through the ranks of corporate finance and overseas operations, including a stint in Hong Kong.

MUFG is one of Japan’s most active lenders in overseas expansion with a sizable presence in the United States.

It bought out UnionBanCal, a holding company of California-based Union Bank, in 2008 and spent $9bn (£5.8bn) for a 21 per cent stake in Morgan Stanley at the height of the financial crisis.