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Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan

SINGAPORE: Malaysia's second-richest man Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan is weighing options for his stake in Hong Leong Bank Bhd, including a merger, two sources with knowledge of the matter said, in a move that could trigger wider consolidation in the sector.

Quek, 80, is also exploring the possibility of reducing his stake in the Malaysian lender, said the sources who declined to be named due to the confidential nature of the matter.

Conglomerate Hong Leong Financial Group Bhd, controlled by Quek, holds a 62% stake in Hong Leong Bank, the country's fourth-largest lender with a market value of $10 billion, according to Refinitiv data.

Hong Leong Bank and Hong Leong Financial did not respond to multiple queries sent by Reuters and there was also no response from Quek to queries sent through the bank.

It was not immediately clear if Quek has shortlisted candidates for a potential merger or has decided how much of the stake he could sell.

A potential merger may herald consolidation in the Malaysian banking sector at a time when a handful of digital banks are preparing to launch their services in the Southeast Asian country.

The sources said the move by Quek comes as the bank's shares have risen sharply this year and he considers succession issues.

Hong Leong's shares hit a record in June and have recovered 17% from a five-month low hit in November, outpacing gains in the KL Finance index.

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MINORITY STAKE

The sources cautioned there was no formal proposal underway for Hong Leong Bank and that Quek has not yet taken any decision on his next move.

Any potential sell-down in Hong Leong Bank by Quek, who was estimated by Forbes magazine this year to have a net worth of $10 billion - making him Malaysia's second-richest man after real estate investor Robert Kuok - is expected to be for a minority stake, two of the sources added.

Banks in Malaysia are required to seek approval from the country's central bank before engaging in formal discussions with parties for potential transactions involving the transfer of a stake.

Some of the country's mid-to-large banks held merger talks more than five years ago, aimed at consolidating the sector, but difficult negotiations and political considerations stalled the process, bankers familiar with the matter say.

Bankers say potential job losses are among the key stumbling blocks for any mergers in the crowded industry.

In 2014 RHB Bank, the country's fourth-largest by assets, and smaller rival AMMB Holdings dropped merger plans after failing to agree on terms.

Quek bought Hong Leong Bank, which posted a record net profit in the year to June 2021, via Hong Leong Financial Group in 1994. It has branches in Singapore and Hong Kong and fully-owned subsidiaries in Vietnam and Cambodia. - Reuters

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