IBJ Whitehall Financial Group, the U.S. banking unit of Industrial Bank of Japan, has an agreement to buy a 50% stake in a New York-based investment bank that specializes in serving middle-market companies, said Dennis G. Buchert, president and chief executive of IBJ Whitehall.

Mr. Buchert declined to identify the bank being acquired. But he said IBJ Whitehall will make more acquisitions in the United States.

The deal, expected to close in January, is the third large recent deal for New York-based IBJ Whitehall, which has some $3 billion of assets in the United States and about $8 billion of assets under management.

This year IBJ Whitehall bought Stamford, Conn.-based Atlantic Asset Management Group and Campbell Investment Advisors in New York as part of an effort to concentrate on asset management and middle-market corporate banking and commercial finance. Campbell was merged with Delphi Asset Management Inc., which IBJ Whitehall bought in 1998.

IBJ Whitehall has gone through several metamorphoses over the years as it transformed itself from a merchant banking-style operation with ancillary activities, such as trade finance and correspondent banking, into a more focused institution targeting the New York metropolitan region.

As part of the repositioning, IBJ Whitehall sold its Latin American private banking operation in Miami to London-based Schroder PLC on Dec. 6 and its corporate and custody trust business to Bank of New York on Oct. 6.

It has also transferred its global custody business to its parent company and sold its $100 million mortgage banking portfolio to a private buyer.

Industrial Bank of Japan, which is based in Tokyo, acquired the remaining 2.7% stake in the U.S. operation held by Schroder for $5 million to $10 million this year and dropped Schroder from its name in favor of Whitehall, the name of the street on which the company's offices are located. The divestitures reduced IBJ Whitehall's staff in the United States to 300 from 550.

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