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CIT, Wells Fargo Could Be Logical Buyers Of Ally Assets - KBW

By Andrew R. Johnson Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- CIT Group Inc. (CIT) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) could be interested in parts of Ally Financial Inc.'s business if the government-owned auto lender decides to sell assets, according to analysts. CIT could be a potential buyer of Ally's banking unit, while Wells Fargo would likely be interested in the company's North American auto-lending business, analysts at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods wrote in a research note Monday. Ally, which provides financing to General Motors Co. (GM) and Chrysler Group LLC (C) dealers and their customers, has put an initial public offering on hold as it grapples with repercussions from its foray into subprime mortgages. The Detroit-based lender has been exploring options for its Residential Capital mortgage subsidiary, including putting the unit into bankruptcy, selling it or both. But as mortgage woes continue to dog the company, sales of its other businesses could be an option. The company is considering selling its auto-lending business or online bank, Reuters reported last week, citing people familiar with the matter. Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for Ally, declined to comment on the KBW note Tuesday. "The allegations are complete speculation and we are not going to engage in speculation," Proia said in a statement regarding the Reuters story Friday. "We continue to be squarely focused on putting the legacy mortgage issues behind us and growing our leading auto finance and direct banking franchises." KBW noted that CIT is among the companies "becoming more bank-like." The lender has been trying to make more loans out of its bank subsidiary to lower its funding costs, and last year it launched an online bank that offers certificates of deposit. CIT has raised more than $700 million of Internet deposits, President Nelson Chai said at an investor conference earlier this month. A spokesman for CIT declined to comment on the KBW note Tuesday. KBW estimated a purchase price for Ally Bank could be about $1 billion, representing a 2% deposit premium. The company had total deposits of $45.1 billion at the end of the fourth quarter, with retail deposits at Ally Bank accounting for $27.7 billion of that, Ally said this month. Wells Fargo would be interested in acquiring Ally's North American auto-lending business, "especially given the market share that Ally has," KBW wrote. "A purchase of the auto finance business would give Wells a much larger industry presence in a line of business where [Wells] already competes," the analysts wrote. A spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based bank declined to comment Tuesday. Such an acquisition could cost $68.3 billion, based on a possible 5% premium to a current net asset value of $65.1 billion on "select" assets and liabilities, the analysts estimated. Capital One Financial Corp. (COF), Discover Financial Services (DFS), J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Huntington Bancshares Inc. (HBAN) and U.S. Bancorp (USB) could also be interested in parts of the business, they wrote. Representatives of those companies either declined to comment Tuesday. Plans Ally outlined last year for an IPO, which would help pay back the government bailout it received, have stalled as it grapples with mortgage issues and decides what to do with ResCap. Ally transformed into a bank holding company in 2008, allowing it to receive $17.2 billion through the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program. Ally has paid back $5.4 billion of that investment. The government currently owns a 73.8% stake in the company. "Realistically, until we've made some progress on the mortgage issue, we're not going to go out into the marketplace and accept the kind of discounts that we would have to get in order to go public in this environment," Ally CEO Michael Carpenter said during an earnings conference call this month. As to the fate of ResCap, Carpenter reiterated previous comments, saying the parent company continues to support the unit but investors "should not assume that there is a blank check from the parent." "My objective is to protect the value of Ally and to support the auto franchise, which is why the government bailed us out," Carpenter said during the call. -By Andrew R. Johnson, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-3214; andrew.r.johnson@dowjones.com

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