By Denny Thomas and Saeed Azhar
HONG KONG/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Standard Chartered Plc is seeking buyers for a Hong Kong consumer finance business worth $500 million to $700 million, according to people familiar with the matter, as the Asia-focused lender sells off peripheral businesses.
A sale would come after the London-based bank in November said it aimed to use capital more effectively. It said it would close or sell small units that are not in its biggest markets, do not work well with other operations or do not produce sufficient profit.
Standard Chartered, which recently reshuffled management after saying 10 years of earnings growth likely ended in 2013, is also considering the sale of its Swiss private bank, Reuters reported last week.
Standard Chartered is working with an advisor to sell Hong Kong consumer finance business PrimeCredit Ltd, which the bank bought in 2004, said the people, who declined to be identified as discussions are confidential.
The bank is likely to kick off an auction to sell PrimeCredit in the next few weeks, they said.
A Standard Chartered Hong Kong-based spokeswoman, in an emailed response to a query on the matter from Reuters, said "We don't comment on market speculation."
Standard Chartered's Hong Kong-listed shares were up 0.8 percent by Wednesday afternoon, whereas the benchmark Hang Seng index was up 0.3 percent.
Over the past year, the bank's London-listed shares have fallen 23.6 percent compared with a 19.2 percent fall in the FTSE All Share Banks Index.
CONSUMER FINANCE BUSINESS
Standard Chartered operates consumer finance businesses in Asia in Hong Kong and South Korea, and is in the process of selling the latter, Reuters previously reported.
PrimeCredit is a Hong Kong high-street lender specialising in high-interest loans for customers little credit history.
The lender booked after-tax profit of HK$251 million ($32.4 million) for the six months to June, 5 percent more than in the same period a year earlier, regulatory filings show. Impairment charges jumped 36 percent to HK$169.6 million.
The auction for PrimeCredit is likely to attract interest from banks in Australia, China and Singapore, the people said.
Banks from those countries had shown strong interest in the sale of two Hong Kong family-run banks last year.
Last month, Standard Chartered announced a shake-up in its top ranks which resulted in Mike Rees becoming deputy to Chief Executive Peter Sands. The bank also said it would combine its wholesale and consumer units from April.
The announcement came after the bank in December said 10 years of growth had likely ended because of tougher international banking regulations, substantial loss in Korea, and slowdown in Asian markets.
The bank earns more than three-quarters of profit in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Its limited presence to Western markets helped it come through the 2008 financial crisis relatively unscathed, and made it a stock-market favourite because of its exposure to faster growth in those emerging markets.
($1 = 7.7557 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Denny Thomas and Saeed Azhar; Additional reporting by Lawrence White; Editing by Christopher Cushing)