Now It's Citi Planning to Expand into Asia

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Add Citigroup to the list of institutions large and small that are focusing or re-focusing global growth ambitions on Asia, especially China and India.

"A big part of Citicorp is our emerging market franchise and Asia-Pacific is a substantial part of it," Chief Executive Vikram Pandit told the Financial Times Wednesday in Hong Kong. "And you will see us expanding across Asia-Pacific this year."

Citicorp is the name for the holding company containing all the businesses that Citi plans to retain under a breakup plan announced a year ago.

Pandit's remarks to the FT refute speculation the firm would sell off some Asian assets as part of an ongoing plan to shrink its balance sheet and pay down debt. The CEO, who's touring major Asian cities this week, says expansion plans this year include Japan, India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Citi owns stakes in two Chinese development banks and one Indian bank. It opened six retail branches in Hong Kong Wednesday, raising its total there to 32. On China's mainland, it has 28 branches in nine cities and says it's in "active conversations" with a local brokerage firm for a joint venture to underwrite and trade stocks in Shanghai. Citi is also seeking approvals in India to add to the 42 retail branches it operates in that country

Who Else is Adding Heads in Asia?

Citi is the latest in a long string of sell-side and buy-side institutions ramping up in Asia. The plans aren't driven by cost-cutting, but rather aim to profit from the rapid growth of both intra-Asia commerce and wealthly clients who live in the region.

Reuters reported this week that banks based in Spain, Australia and South Korea are adding Chinese branches and investing in and partnering with local banks there. On the buy side, big U.S. and UK-based hedge funds including GLG Partners, Soros Fund Management and Prana Capital are moving to open offices in China and Hong Kong, relocate senior staffers or create new funds that will invest there. China and India (along with Brazil) are JPMorgan Chase's initial geographic targets for its planned global corporate banking business unveiled this week.

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