Japan’s top lenders in fresh drive to win US investment banking deals

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s top lenders aim to carve out a larger presence in U.S investment banking as they look to make better use of their massive balance sheets by winning a bigger slice of deals, executives say.

For years Japan’s megabanks have been notable players in U.S. corporate lending, armed with huge assets backed by household deposits at home. But they have struggled in the more lucrative market for advising and other fee-based businesses in investment banking.

Mizuho’s (8411.T) $550 million acquisition of U.S. boutique firm Greenhill (GHL.N) announced in May will help it fill in “missing pieces” in advisory services and other areas, said Yoshiro Hamamoto, CEO of Mizuho Securities, the brokerage arm of Japan’s third-largest bank.

“We will gain more capabilities to pitch various solutions to clients, instead of simply offering to extend a balance sheet,” he said in an interview. “Our strategy is to make better use of our balance sheet and boost returns on risk-weighted assets.”

Stronger advisory functions will have spillover effects into equity offerings, where Mizuho hopes to move up into the top 10 U.S. league table, Hamamoto said.

The 2015 acquisition of Royal Bank of Scotland’s North American corporate loan portfolio had bolstered Mizuho’s capabilities in debt capital markets.

Mizuho’s bigger domestic rival, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (SMFG) (8316.T), is also seeking to expand in U.S. investment banking.

The No. 2 Japanese bank said in April it would triple its stake in Jefferies Financial Group (JEF.N) to as much as 15% and combine its U.S. equity and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) business with its partner in an alliance designed to leverage Jefferies’ investment banking expertise and SMFG’s balance sheet.

It follows in the footsteps of top Japanese bank Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) (8306.T), which boosted its U.S. presence through a $9 billion investment in Morgan Stanley (MS.N) in 2008 that gave MUFG some 20% ownership of the Wall Street bank. The duo has since done many big deals together.

The top three Japanese banks have a combined 911.5 trillion yen ($6.32 trillion) in assets, according to Refinitiv data, reflecting large household savings in the world’s third-largest economy.

MUFG and Mizuho were the seventh- and ninth-biggest bookrunners for U.S. loans in 2022, while none of the top three Japanese banks ranked among the top 10 for U.S. bond, equity offerings and M&A, according to Dealogic.

LEVERAGING CONNECTIONS

Japanese banks have made attempts at cracking the U.S. market previously, but the results have been mixed. After many years of investment, MUFG pulled the plug on retail bank MUFG Union Bank in 2022.

Japanese banks have been considered generous lenders to U.S. clients but unlike their American rivals they had previously shied away from demanding capital markets or M&A deals in exchange, a former executive at a major Japanese bank’s U.S. unit said on condition of anonymity.

“They are eager to change,” the former executive said.

Morningstar analyst Michael Makdad said the best opportunities for Japanese firms in U.S. investment banking were in areas where they could leverage their connections to Japanese investors.

Otherwise, they risked the fate of European banks Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) that bought U.S. investment banks First Boston and Bankers Trust respectively, but were unable to take significant market share from large local players like Goldman Sachs (GS.N), Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan (JPM.N), he said.

Mizuho’s Hamamoto said the Greenhill deal would broaden the scope of its cross-border M&A advisory, particularly for Japanese companies stepping up their search for investment or divestment opportunities as a way to increase capital efficiency.

Mizuho has said it plans to retain the Greenhill brand, global network and leadership team.

Image: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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