Mitsubishi UFJ to Take on Wall Street Banks in Lending Push

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. is expanding its U.S. investment-banking unit to look more like its bigger Wall Street rivals.

The Japanese firm is pushing into areas of lending now dominated by U.S. rivals such as Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., Jon Lindenberg, Mitsubishi’s deputy head of investment banking in the Americas, said Tuesday in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. The goal is to move beyond traditional strengths such as financing energy projects and become bigger players in receivables finance and asset-based finance, a borrowing method often used by inventory-intensive firms such as retailers.

“We’re evolving,” Lindenberg said. “There are a lot of growth areas. We’re just tapping right now where many people already exist.”

MUFG is among Japanese banks looking overseas for revenue and growth opportunities as record-low interest rates have crimped domestic markets. Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. said Monday its securities business is planning to add about 250 positions abroad over the next three years to make up for slumping loan profitability at home.

MUFG’s expansion strategy includes underwriting and selling more debt in the U.S. to investors rather than holding the loans on its books, Lindenberg said. The plans also call for “playing a bigger role” in high-yield bonds and leveraged loans, he said.

Aircraft Financing

The bank is also looking to make more equipment-financing loans, including for aircraft purchases, he said. The Tokyo-based firm last year hired Olivier Trauchessec, formerly of BNP Paribas SA, to lead the push into aviation finance.

MUFG has financed offshore wind in Europe — a fledgling industry in the U.S. — and is interested in backing storage projects, Lindenberg said. The lender recently helped lead financing for an energy storage and power plant complex in Southern California, a deal that included almost $1.5 billion of senior secured notes.

Lindenberg said the bank is eager to use its position as the lead arranger of clean-energy asset financing to attract employees, especially climate-minded millennials.

Natural gas has been a particular focus for MUFG. In North America, it has financed power plants that burn the fuel, and pipelines that ship it from shale-stocked Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast and to the Mexico border — and beyond. It’s been a prominent lender to Gulf Coast liquefied natural gas plants that chill gas into liquid, for eventual transport overseas by tanker.

“It’s kind of the gift that keeps on giving,” Erik Codrington, MUFG’s New York-based head of energy project finance, said in the interview Tuesday.

Dealmaking in the energy industry initially slowed after U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise election last year, Lindenberg said. At the time, Trump’s proposal to cut the country’s corporate tax rate reduced the availability of an esoteric clean-energy financing mechanism known as tax equity, according to a January report from energy and infrastructure adviser Marathon Capital LLC. The uncertainty made it difficult to structure a deal not knowing what future tax rates might be, Lindenberg said.

But now, MUFG’s clients aren’t waiting for policy clarity before moving forward on deals, he said.

“The floodgates are open,” Lindenberg said. “They’re not trying to predict the outcome of tax reform.”

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