HSBC Holdings PLC has stepped up its retreat from the U.S. by officially putting its upstate New York retail franchise on the block in addition to its credit card portfolio.

Preliminary bids were due Monday for about 175 branches, with a decision expected in four to six weeks, according to a person familiar with the matter. The branches are expected to fetch a deposit premium of 4% to 6%, based on recent premiums paid for comparable branches, this person said.

The deal does not include HSBC's roughly 200 branches in the New York City area, although it may sell some locations in New Jersey and on Long Island as it focuses in the U.S. on large cities with abundant international business activity.

HSBC, under stress globally and still reeling from a foray into U.S. subprime lending a decade ago, said in May that it would consider selling its $32 billion U.S. credit card book and paring down its more than 470 stateside branches, nearly 400 of which are in New York state.

The bank decided to sell the upstate branches and credit card portfolio separately after attempts to unload them as a package drew little interest.

Capital One Financial Corp. is an early bidder for HSBC's credit cards, The Wall Street Journal reported this week. (Capital One has also offered $9 billion for ING Group NV's online U.S. bank, according to news reports.)

HSBC is not abandoning the U.S. but instead plans to use its broad international reach to attract depositors who have interests overseas and midsize corporate clients interested in doing businesses internationally. It intends to retain branches in San Francisco, Seattle, Houston and other large cosmopolitan cities.

Bidders for the upstate New York network are unknown. However, suitors are liklely to include three of the region's biggest players: M&T Bank Corp., First Niagara Financial Group Inc. and KeyCorp, experts say. Spokesmen for M&T, First Niagara and KeyCorp declined to comment.

"The review of our branch network is underway," confirmed HSBC spokesman Rob Sherman, who declined further comment.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., which is advising HSBC on the branch sales process, declined to comment.

Acquiring HSBC's $12 billion of Buffalo deposits alone would make M&T or First Niagara the deposit king of its hometown, according to the latest deposit share data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. HSBC has the top share in that market, followed by M&T, First Niagara and KeyCorp, respectively.

HSBC's branches would likley deliver cost savings via closures of redundant locations and provide a big source of stable funding. M&T has stated it is committed to increasing core deposits as a key to its post-recession growth plans.

M&T and First Niagara have made multiple acquisitions during the downturn. Both recently closed big transactions: M&T purchased Wilmington Trust Corp., of Delaware, in May, and First Niagara acquired NewAlliance Bancshares Inc., of Bridgeport, Conn., the pervious month.

KeyCorp's history of making acquisitions was interrupted in recent years by internal problems. It has said it eventually wants to do fill-in acquisitions in markets with good growth potential.

HSBC built its upstate network by acquiring majority ownership of Buffalo's Marine Midland Banks Inc. in 1980.


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