By Jonathan Saul and Andreas Kröner
LONDON/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank <DBKGn.DE> is among more than 20 bidders in talks to potentially buy a 3.2 billion euro ($3.5 billion) loan portfolio from state-owned rival HSH Nordbank [HSH.UL] as Germany's biggest lender tries to do deals despite its troubles, sources told Reuters.
HSH and Deutsche declined to comment.
Four finance industry sources with knowledge of the situation said on Friday Deutsche Bank was looking at the portfolio. Two of the sources said it included at least 500 million euros of non-performing loans related to HSH's shipping finance business.
"It could be an asset play for Deutsche where they pick up the debt and sell it on subsequently," one of the sources, who declined to be identified, said. "This whole process is still at an early stage."
Deutsche Bank chief John Cryan pledged to redouble restructuring efforts on Thursday, warning the bank faces tough times as it finalizes talks with U.S. justice authorities over a $14 billion fine, which has rocked confidence in the lender.
While it would be difficult for Deutsche to keep such loans on its books in the long term, as that would require the struggling bank to set aside scarce capital, such a purchase could be attractive if the loans were quickly sold on at a profit.
Deutsche may ultimately restrict any purchase to a small part of the billions on offer or pull out. But throwing its hat in the ring shows it wants to remain active in the market.
The sources said banks Credit Suisse <CSGN.S> and Citigroup <C.N>, together with asset managers Apollo Global Management <APO.N>, KKR <KKR.N> and Oaktree Capital Group <OAK.N>, were also among the more than 20 bidders for the HSH portfolio, which are expected to submit their first offers shortly.
Credit Suisse, Citi, Oaktree and KKR declined to comment, while Apollo did not immediately respond.
The HSH portfolio also includes around 2 billion euros of loans related to real estate assets in Britain, Germany and other European countries as well as aviation and energy debt, two finance industry sources said.
HSH turned to its state owners after risky assets turned sour in 2008.
In March, the European Commission approved a bailout which includes a plan to hive off a total of 8.2 billion euros in bad loans, 5 billion of which have been transferred to the state owners, while the lender must sell up to 3.2 billion itself. HSH had offered 4 billion euros of loans in total and is looking to sell 3.2 billion euros out of that.
Many segments of the global shipping sector are struggling with their worst ever market conditions, caused by a glut of ships and slowing global trade, which have battered earnings and led to the collapse of South Korean container line Hanjin in August.
German lenders - among the biggest backers of shipowners over the past 20 years - are estimated to be behind up to a quarter of the world's $400 billion of outstanding shipping loans.
HSH, which is among Germany's biggest lenders to shipping, has struggled due to the sector turmoil. The bank said in August its total shipping finance business was 17.4 billion euros.
Rival German bank NordLB said in August it was selling a $1.5 billion portfolio of shipping loans to a unit of KKR and a sovereign wealth fund.
Two of the sources said Deutsche could look to potentially pick up further shipping loans from HSH beyond the portfolio.
The two sources added Deutsche had recently been buying and selling secondary shipping debt for a profit. These types of transactions typically involve smaller parcels of loans of around $100 million each.
"There was not much going on in the secondary market for ships in the first half of the year. But now there is very much movement," a shipping industry source said.
"Some private equity investors invested too early in shipping loans and burned their fingers. But there are other investors that are now shuffling their feet. They believe that the shipping market has reached the bottom."
In July, sources told Reuters that Deutsche was looking to sell at least $1 billion of shipping loans in its own portfolio.
(Additional reporting by Arno Schuetze, Anjuli Davies and John O'Donnell,; Editing by Dale Hudson and Mark Potter)