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Consolidation of Malaysia's Banking Sector Continues

Malaysia's largest corporate takeover continues the consolidation of the country's banking sector, and U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil has signed an agreement with an Indonesian company about the running of a lucrative oil field.

Malaysia's second-largest bank, Bumiputra-Commerce Holdings, says it will take over its smaller rival Southern Bank for $1.8 billion. It is the country's largest corporate takeover and will leave Malaysia with nine major banks.

Malaysia's National Bank oversaw the merging of Malaysia's 54 banks and finance houses into 10 banking groups five years ago. The government wanted to strengthen the industry after the 1997 Asian financial crisis and prepare it for next year's liberalization of the financial sector, which will give foreign banks greater access to the country.

Tan Hwee Hoon, a banking analyst at the Singapore office of credit rankings agency Standard & Poor's, believes the latest takeover will not be the last.

"This proposed acquisition for Southern Bank will drive a second wave amongst the remaining players because there are still a few of the small banks that is in the Malaysia market," said Tan.

Indonesia's state oil and gas company Pertamina signed a long-awaited agreement with U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil to jointly run the Cepu oil block, Indonesia' largest oil reserve discovery in decades.

The agreement ended a long-running dispute between the two companies about who would operate the oil field.

Indonesia - the only Southeast Asian member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries - has become a net importer of petroleum because of declining investment in its gas and oil sector.

The exploration of the Cepu block in East Java, estimated to contain up to 500 million barrels in oil reserves, is expected to greatly boost Indonesia's output once production starts in 2008.

Hollywood film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer plans to build its first overseas theme park in the South Korean city of Busan.

M.G.M.'s South Korean partner, the entertainment company Glovit, is expected to start construction of the one billion dollar project next year. The park is scheduled to open in 2011.

In other news from South Korea, automaker Kia plans to build its first North American factory, a $1.2 billion assembly plant in Georgia. Production is scheduled to begin in 2009.

Kia, an affiliate of South Korea's top car producer Hyundai, wants to shift more production overseas to become less vulnerable to currency fluctuations.