HSBC Holdings Plc <0005.HK> has launched the sale of its non-life insurance business, sources told Reuters on Monday, a global division worth about $1 billion and now part of the bank's plan to strip away non-core units.

HSBC, Europe's biggest bank with a large presence across Asia, had sent out an information memorandum to potential buyers, with first round bids due by mid-October, a source said.

HSBC operates non-life insurance businesses in Britain, France, Hong Kong and Singapore. The Hong Kong and Singapore operations alone bring about $400 million in annual premiums, the source said.

HSBC's non-life insurance businesses earned profit before tax of about $1 billion in 2010, according to a presentation made by HSBC in June.

We do not comment on market rumors or speculation, a Hong Kong-based HSBC spokeswoman said.

The sources declined to be identified as the sale process was not public.

HSBC's 16 percent stake in Ping An Insurance (Group) Co of China Ltd <2318.HK><601318.SS> and 18 percent stake in Bao Vietnam, a domestic financial institution, were not part of the sale, the source said.

HSBC's investment banking arm was running the sale process, the source added.

In May, HSBC announced plans to sell non-core businesses, which included shrinking its network of 475 U.S. branches to focus on the international business of U.S. clients and the sale of several European retail banking businesses including those in Poland and Russia.

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Additional reporting by Kelvin Soh; Editing by Michael Flaherty and Chris Lewis)