TOKYO — Citigroup Inc. has decided to jettison Nikko Cordial Securities Inc. and could start accepting bids for the brokerage unit as early as this month in a move that could reshape the Japanese financial services industry, The Nikkei reported in its Tuesday morning edition.

Sources familiar with the matter say Citigroup aims to divest Nikko Cordial in stages. Japan's three megabanks - Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., Mizuho Financial Group Inc. and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. — are expected to be the main contenders in the bidding, with the entire process possibly lasting months. The purchase price is likely to reach several hundred billion yen.

Citigroup hasn't announced an intention to sell Nikko Cordial.

One of Japan's top three brokerages, Nikko Cordial counted 111 branches and roughly Y25 trillion in investor assets as of Dec. 31. Each megabank already has its own securities firm, but acquiring Nikko Cordial would go a long way toward closing the gap with industry leader Nomura Holdings Inc.

Citigroup spent roughly Y1.5 trillion in January 2008 to make Nikko Cordial a wholly owned subsidiary as part of broader effort to become a one-stop financial services firm. But amid a global financial meltdown that has plunged it into a crisis, the multinational giant adopted a plan last month to split off its banking and other main operations from its ancillary businesses.

Among these noncore units are Nikko Cordial and investment firm Nikko Asset Management Co., which industry analysts say could also be put up for sale.

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