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U.S. investment fund Cerberus Group is likely to win the bid for the 48.8 percent stake Softbank Corp. holds in Aozora Bank, sources close to the deal said Tuesday.

Cerberus is expected to top or at least match the bid of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc., which is estimated at 100 billion yen. Cerberus aims to enter into final negotiations on the deal before the end of the month, the sources said.

Sumitomo Mitsui made its offer, which analysts termed as within expectations, in late February after assessing Aozora Bank’s loans and other assets.

With a 12 percent interest in Aozora, Cerberus has preferential rights to negotiate the deal with Softbank, as long as its bidding price is not lower than that of Sumitomo Mitsui.

The sources said Cerberus is eager to boost its interest in Aozora, though it intends to limit its total stake to below 50 percent in view of possible repercussions from financial authorities and other major shareholders.

Aozora Bank is the successor of the failed Nippon Credit Bank, which was nationalized in December 1998.

It was reborn later as Aozora after it was sold in 2000 to a consortium led by Softbank, Orix Corp. and Tokio Marine & Fire Insurance Co.

Currently, ownership of Aozora is divided between Softbank at 48.8 percent; Orix and Tokio at 15 percent each; Cerberus at 12 percent; and regional banks and other stockholders at 9 percent.

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