Dutch bank ING was silent yesterday on rumours that its British stockbroker arm Williams de Broe is up for sale.
The group was reported in London to have gone as far as sending out memoranda of sale to at least half a dozen parties interested in buying de Broe, which is a major player in the Birmingham market.
But the process was claimed to be still be at an early stage and no deal is expected to be struck until June at the earliest.
"We cannot comment on market rumours," said a spokeswoman from ING's Belgian unit, which controls Williams de Broe. "It is true that ING is momentarily looking at different options for the business, and we do not rule out a possible sale."
Williams de Broe is thought to be worth about #30 million, and potential buyers could include investment bank Evolution Group, Iceland's Kaupthing, which owns the Singer & Friedlander merchant bank, and Jon Moulton's private equity group Alchemy Partners.
Sources said there had been interest from different parties in Williams de Broe, which ING acquired in 1998 when it bought the British brokerage's owner, Belgium's Banque Bruxelles Lambert.
The business had a troubled time recently, with a number of senior staff leaving and an investigation into a possible #56 million gap in its accounts.
ING is the second-largest Dutch bank and ranks among Europe's top five insurers.