UPDATE 1-Fujitsu kicks off auction for air conditioning business - sources

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By Kane Wu and Makiko Yamazaki

HONG KONG/TOKYO, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Fujitsu Ltd has launched an auction process for its listed air-conditioning manufacturing business Fujitsu General Ltd with initial bids due on Friday, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The sale is expected to attract interest from multiple private equity firms and strategic investors, said the people, who declined to identified as the talks are private.

Lazard Ltd is advising Fujitsu General and UBS Group AG is advising Fujitsu, two of the people said.

Fujitsu General, with 390 billion yen ($3 billion) market value as of Thursday, expects its operating profit to more than double to 18 billion yen in the year ending this March.

UBS declined to comment. Fujitsu General could not be reached for immediate comment out of office hours. Lazard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fujitsu has said it plans to sell its 42% stake in Fujitsu General, as the Japanese electronics conglomerate accelerates a business overhaul. A Fujitsu spokesperson said the company cannot comment further.

The practice of listing subsidiaries has been under pressure from regulators in Japan, as critics say it is fundamentally unfair to minority shareholders, whose interests are inevitably subordinated to those of the parent.

The auction comes after Fujitsu had long sought potential buyers for Fujitsu General, including Germany's Bosch, two of the people said. ($1 = 128.4900 yen) (Reporting by Kane Wu in HONG KONG and Makiko Yamazaki in TOKYO; Additional reporting by Mayu Sakoda Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Jane Merriman)