(Updates with Hitachi's Friday stock move)
By Kane Wu, Arno Schuetze and Junko Fujita
HONGKONG/FRANKFURT/TOKYO, May 17 (Reuters) - Global private equity firms Bain Capital, Carlyle Group and KKR & Co are among potential bidders for Japanese conglomerate Hitachi Ltd's chemical unit, three people familiar with the situation told Reuters.
Hitachi plans to sell its majority stake in Hitachi Chemical and the process could start as early as this month, Reuters has reported.
The conglomerate shortlisted a select group of financial sponsors and strategic suitors for the bidding process after initial conversations with interested parties earlier this year, two of the people said, declining to be identified as the information is confidential.
The three private equity firms declined to comment.
Hitachi owns 51.2 percent in its chemical unit, which is worth about $2.9 billion based on Hitachi Chemical's $5.7 billion market value at Friday's close.
Hitachi Chemical's share price, which closed at 3,025 yen apiece on Friday, has almost doubled since the beginning of this year, bouncing back from 2018 when it was hit by a series of scandals.
Hitachi and Hitachi Chemical declined to comment.
Global private equity investors has been increasingly interested in Japan since Bain led a consortium in an $18 billion deal in 2016 for Toshiba Corp's memory chip unit, as many large companies in the country are expected to consider a series of spin-offs amid a government drive to improve corporate governance and boost shareholder returns.
Japan inbound deal value - at $6.7 billion as of Thursday - grew over seven times from the same period last year, according to Refinitiv data. Private equity-backed deals have amounted to $1.58 billion, up 76% year-on-year, despite a big drop in total number of deals, the data showed.
Hitachi last year agreed to buy a majority stake in ABB's power grid unit. It said last month it would acquire U.S. firm JR Automation Technologies, which makes logistic systems using industrial robots, for $1.4 billion.
Its divestitures include semiconductor equipment maker Hitachi Kokusai Electric Inc and the power tool unit Hitachi Koki, both of which were sold to KKR. (Reporting by Kane Wu in HONG KONG, Arno Schuetze in FRANKFURT and Junko Fujita in TOKYO; Additional reporting by Takashi Umekawa in TOKYO; Editing by Kim Coghill and Christopher Cushing)