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Volksbanken Said to Sell Container Leasing Business to Fortress

Oesterreichische Volksbanken AG, the lender partially nationalized by Austria, is close to a sale of its container-leasing unit to Fortress Investment Group LLC, according to two people with knowledge of the process.

Volksbanken may sell Immoconsult Asset Leasing GmbH, a Vienna-based company that leases shipping containers, to Fortress for less than $200 million, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private. The transaction is expected to be completed in the next few weeks, the person said.

Volksbanken is considering options for units it deems “non-core,” including selling them or winding them down, Walter Groeblinger, a company spokesman, said today by telephone. Immoconsult is among those units, he said, declining to elaborate. Gordon Runte, a spokesman for Fortress, a New York-based private-equity firm, declined to comment.

Expanding global trade creates demand and shipping lines are focusing investments on new vessels, pushing them to rely more on leasing companies such as Fortress’s SeaCube Container Leasing Ltd.for the containers they use. The Bloomberg U.S. Container Leasing Index, which also includes CAI International Inc., TAL International Group Inc. and Textainer Group Holdings Ltd. has risen 25.3 percent this year, compared with an 11.8 percent rise of the S&P 500 Index.

Immoconsult owns and manages about 160,000 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, of containers and is among the 15 biggest firms globally, according to its 2011 annual report.

Volksbanken has gotten three state bailouts since 2008 after the fivefold expansion of its balance sheet over a decade unraveled. In the last rescue operation, Austria took a 43 percent stake. The lender already sold its real estate arm and its eastern European business as it is cutting assets to focus on central functions for the local banks that own a majority stake in the Vienna-based company.

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