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Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. is seeking to buy an Asian lender and team up with a global investment bank on U.S. dealmaking, signaling that its expansion plans remain undeterred by the pandemic.

The nation’s second-biggest bank is “studying specific targets” in Vietnam, the Philippines and India, Chief Executive Officer Jun Ohta said in an interview. It wants to find a partner to underwrite equity and bond sales in the U.S. and elsewhere, after the lender was unable to make the most of a corporate financing boom this year, Ohta said.

The plans underscore how Sumitomo Mitsui is looking beyond the coronavirus-fueled recession to grow abroad, with rock-bottom interest rates and a graying population likely to hamper prospects at home for years to come.

“It may not immediately lead to a profit increase, but we’re going to buy what will provide a business platform in emerging countries from a long-term perspective,” Ohta said, explaining the rationale behind purchases of commercial banks in Asia. He didn’t identify the companies on his list of potential targets.

Sumitomo Mitsui is the most likely of Japan’s three so-called megabanks to purchase an Asian lender. Larger rival Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. recently said its acquisition phase is over after spending about $15 billion on banks in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. Mizuho Financial Group Inc. has indicated a lack of interest in buying Asian banks with physical branches.

Just a year ago, Sumitomo Mitsui failed in a bid for Indonesia’s PT Bank Permata, which was acquired by Bangkok Bank Pcl.

“It was very painful to miss out on Permata,” Ohta said, adding that the bank was “thinking about the next move.” Sumitomo Mitsui already owns PT Bank BTPN in Indonesia.

The Tokyo-based bank is “studying various ways” to enter the industry in India, Ohta said, even as lenders there struggle with mounting bad loans. Asked about Indian authorities’ recent decision to allow a foreign bank to take over a local lender, he said that since the move was designed to rescue a troubled firm, potential targets need to be carefully examined to see whether they can be turned around.

“The conditions aren’t great in India now, but that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on the country, given its growth potential,” he said. Sumitomo Mitsui has three branches in the country.

He also said the bank’s 15% stake in Eximbank of Vietnam won’t be an obstacle to a possible acquisition of another lender there.

Shares in Sumitomo Mitsui fell 0.8% in Tokyo on Tuesday morning taking this year’s decline to 22%, broadly in line with its two local rivals.

While Ohta said the bank also needed to consider acquisitions to boost its overseas investment banking business, he believes a more immediate solution is a tie-up with a big securities firm.

Such an arrangement would involve Sumitomo Mitsui offering loans in exchange for a bigger role in bond and stock underwriting, he said. Large investment banks capitalized on a rush to tap global equity and debt capital markets this year, exposing a weakness at Sumitomo Mitsui, he said, adding that boosting the bank’s mergers advisory business was another challenge to address.

“We might even be able to team up with a bulge-bracket” firm, Ohta said, referring to an industry term for big investment banks. “We haven’t formed any specific plans yet, but some might be interested.”

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