LONDON: A impressive consortium of international financial brands has added credence to a bid by self-publicizing billionaire Sir Richard Branson for stricken UK bank Northern Rock - the highest-profile European casualty of the US subprime mortgage fallout.

According to the voluble Virginista, the bid, if successful, would subsume Northern Rock into his financial offshoot Virgin Money, a rebranding tactic that has not enjoyed conspicuous success with another Branson-associated venture: Virgin Media.

However, the pedigree of Branson's backing consortium commands respect in even the most sedate financial circles.

Its members include insurance giant American International Group, US-based turnaround specialist W L Ross & Company, UK hedge fund Toscafund Asset Management - managed by former senior executives of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group - and Hong Kong financial giant First Eastern Investment Group.

However, Branson's bid must contend with equally serious rivals, among them J C Flowers & Company, Cerberus Capital Management and one or more unidentified private equity groups.

Says Branson: "If we're successful, we'll be able to create an exciting new banking alternative for everyone in the UK."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online. additional content by WARC staff