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Citigroup eyes sale of Japan retail banking business: reports

Japan's three top lenders among possible bidders; Citigroup to still retain its profitable commercial banking operations in the country.

TOKYO: Citigroup is eyeing the sale of its Japanese retail banking operations, reports said Wednesday, more than a century after setting up shop in the Asian nation.

The Nikkei business daily said the US financial giant was talking to Japan's three top lenders about a possible deal, among others. The bidding process was expected to begin as early as September, the daily said, adding that a number of domestic banks have expressed an interest, aiming to gain from Citigroup's relatively wealthy customer base.

A company spokeswoman in Tokyo declined comment on the Nikkei report, a day after the Wall Street Journal also said Citigroup planned to exit Japan.

The US company's 33 retail branches are mostly located in the greater Tokyo area, with deposits worth ¥3.9 trillion yen (S$47 billion, US$39 billion). Citigroup would still retain its profitable commercial banking operations in the country, the Nikkei said, adding that low interest rates had squeezed its retail business which relies heavily on individuals' deposits.

HSBC withdrew from retail banking in Japan in 2012 and there are relatively few foreign lenders offering such services in the country. Citigroup entered the Japanese market in 1902, one of the first foreign lenders to operate in the country.

Since the US bank brought in a new chief in late 2012, it has been cutting retail operations in a host of countries, including Honduras, Turkey, Romania, and Uruguay, Dow Jones Newswires said.