WHICH company has bought into a Korean bank, signed the biggest takeover deal in Japanese history and has been the first foreign company to issue a domestic currency bond in Singapore - all in the past couple of months? The business in question is GE Capital, a subsidiary of General Electric of the United States and the world's largest non-bank financial institution. It rarely makes the headlines but it is a business that is well-favoured by Wall Street, where one analyst described it as 'exceptionally successful'. Now, the company has turned its attention to Asia. In the last year, it has bought loans from failed finance companies and car-loan businesses in Thailand, Japanese credit card company Koei Credit, Toho Mutual Life Assurance, Japan's fifth largest consumer finance company Lake Co and been involved in the consortium that beat HSBC to take a 51 per cent stake in Korea First Bank. It started this year with the 790 billion yen (about HK$53.5 billion) Japan Leasing takeover - reputedly the largest Japanese firm takeover. GE Capital, which accounts for about 40 per cent of GE's profits, went on a European buying spree in the mid-1990s. It increased business in the region from US$46 million in 1992 to more than $700 million in 1997 and pushed Europe's contribution to GE Capital's bottom line to more than 20 per cent. Now the spotlight is on Asia, where analysts estimate GE could be planning to spend up to $30 billion. GE chairman Jack Welch last December said he would trim annual stock repurchases until the end of 2000 to accelerate acquisitions in Asia. In 1997, Asia contributed less than 5 per cent to profits but by the end of this year, estimates suggest it will be in the region of 10 per cent. 'We do look at Asia as an opportunity to replicate what we did in Europe,' said Alan Juliano, managing director of acquisitions and business development for GE Capital Asia Pacific. 'It may take a little more time here.' How much the firm was prepared to spend depended on the opportunities. 'There is no set dollar amount we are looking to invest in Asia,' he said. 'The amazing thing about GE - and GE Capital - is that we do have access to an enormous amount of funds, but we have a very stringent process about investing in those funds.' The company has a team of 20 in the business development group scouting for opportunities in Asia. In whittling them down to the best deals, Mr Juliano says the strategy is to focus the acquisitions on the sectors in which it has experience. In Thailand, the government held private talks with GE Capital and Goldman Sachs to sell 23.6 billion baht (about HK$4.94 billion) of loans to the two, after an auction failed to meet the prices the finance officials sought. The price they paid remained below the official floor, after a profit-sharing arrangement was negotiated. GE Capital also has good relations in Singapore, where it was the first foreign company to issue a domestic currency bond, and Japan, where the bulk of its acquisitions have been. The secret of its success lies in the fact it buys and operates businesses. 'We're not traders - we're not involved in the stock market,' Mr Juliano said. 'We get in and operate a company.' GE Capital has not been shy about playing up that distinction either. At the end of last year, the recently retired chief executive of GE Capital Gary Wendt told regional leaders at a meeting in Singapore that the region needed investors like him, 'not one that sits at a computer and says 'sell' '. GE has come in for some criticism. Some observers feel it is taking advantage of the weak economies of the region and the Japanese press have questioned the structure of the deal for Toho Mutual Life which shelters GE Capital from much of the risk.