August 10, 2012 / 5:33 PM / 6 years ago

Baer close to buying Merrill wealth unit: sources

LONDON (Reuters) - Switzerland’s Julius Baer BAER.VX is close to buying Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s (BAC.N) private banking units outside the United States, two people familiar with the situation said, potentially adding 50 percent to its business.

A Bank of America Merrill Lynch sign is seen on a building that houses its offices in Singapore May 17, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Chong

A deal could be announced early next week, the sources said. One of the sources said that Baer could pay up to $2 billion for the unit, which manages some $90 billion for clients in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

“An announcement is expected within a couple of days now,” one of the people said, asking not to be named.

Bank of America and Julius Baer declined to comment.

Julius Baer, which has no other business lines outside private banking, said in June that it was in talks to buy the unit, though it declined to say whether it wanted to buy the whole business, or parts of it.

Bank of America is the world’s largest wealth manager, managing close to $2 trillion of client assets, but its non-U.S. arm is relatively modest.

If Baer were to buy all the business from Bank of America, it would increase assets under management by about 50 percent from the 179 billion Swiss francs ($183.56 billion) that the bank reported with its half-year numbers in July.

    Reuters first reported that Bank of America had put the unit up for sale, as it had never been able to build up the business to match the scale of its home market.

    The second-largest U.S. bank has lagged peers in recovering from the financial crisis, largely because of huge losses, and lawsuits tied to its 2008 acquisition of subprime mortgage lender Countrywide Financial.

    Acquisition-hungry Baer is also an obvious suitor for Generali’s (GASI.MI) BSI private banking unit, two sources familiar with the matter said last month, as it has considered buying the business in the past.

    Additional reporting by Sophie Sassard in London and Oliver Hirt in Zurich; Editing by Stephen Powell

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