Wells Fargo has emerged as the front-runner to buy General Electric's railcar-financing unit, people with knowledge of the matter said.

An agreement to buy the business, which has more than $4 billion in assets, could be announced by the U.S. Labor Day holiday Sept. 7, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. A deal hasn't been finalized, the people said. The process remains competitive, one of the people said. Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group also is pursuing the business, the people said.

The Chicago-based rail-equipment unit, GE Capital Rail Services, leases freight and tank cars and offers loans and maintenance services. GE has weighed selling it at least twice since 2008, and ended an auction in 2011 after concluding that the lessor was faring well as freight shipments recovered.

A spokesman for GE, based in Fairfield, Conn., declined to comment, as did a representative for San Francisco- based Wells Fargo. A representative for Tokyo-based Sumitomo Mitsui also declined to comment.

GE is selling the rail-car business as it retreats from financial services to better focus on manufacturing. It also wants to avoid being regulated as a too-big-to-fail financial institution.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.