Baer to Seek Palm Beach Following

NEW YORK - Bank Julius Baer & Co., the Swiss bank that manages money for the ultra-affluent, is following the lead of several other foreign companies by opening a representative office in Palm Beach, Fla.

Henry Looser, who runs retail private banking operations from Baer's Zurich headquarters, said the bank was targeting individuals in the Florida resort city who have a net worth of $30 million to $50 million.

A European Expertise

Baer, which manages about $20.7 billion for individuals and institutions worldwide, said the bank would promote its ability to diversify portfolios with international investments. The bank plans to offer three basic types of investments: a bond portfolio denominated in varying currencies and maturities, an international equity portfolio, and money-fund accounts.

"We view ourselves as money managers with a global, and particularly European, expertise," Mr. Looser said.

About 15% of Baer's assets under management are invested in U.S. securities, he added.

Interest rates in Europe have probably peaked, Mr. Looser said, suggesting that the most interesting investments today are the Canadian dollar or the European Currency Unit with five-to-ten-year maturities.

Baer will cut the opening ribbon in Palm Beach on Dec. 1, but it is following on the heels of some vaunted rivals. In August, Credit Suisse said it planned to build up its marketing activities in Miami. Last year, Britain's Barclays Bank PLC acquired the Miami private banking operations of Marine Midland Banks.

Move Explained

Baer's application to Florida's Division of Banking says that the Palm Beach office will be used to help channel investments from Europe and Asia into Florida and to improve service to Latin American and Caribbean customers.

Baer's primary operation in the United States is a branch in New York City. It also has representative offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Eighty percent of the bank's business involves investment management for private individuals.

Sorties into Other Countries

The Palm Beach office is part of a broader drive by Baer to expand outside Switzerland. The moves include big pushes into Germany and Japan, Mr. Looser said. Toward the end of the 1990s, he added, the bank may also be in Eastern Europe.

Mr. Looser concedes that prospects for expansion in the United States are limited by the economy and weak consumer confidence.

He speaks with the voice of experience. When he was in the U.S. recently to scout the new location, his luggage was stolen at the Miami airport.

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