Close Bros. Group, one of the few remaining British-owned investment banks, agreed to form an alliance with Los Angeles-based Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin in an attempt to build a U.S. business. The joint venture involves no exchange of cash, stock or change in ownership. Instead, the companies will share personnel to develop their respective transatlantic operations focusing on middle-market companies, said Jonathan Adams, an investment banker at Close Bros. Closely held Houlihan Lokey, formed in 1970, has nine offices in the U.S. and has business in Asia. The deal gives the company an entre to Europe. London-based Close Bros. said it's committed to staying independent even as rival Schroders recently agreed to sell its investment banking business to Citigroup Inc. Robert Fleming Holdings Ltd., another British rival, is in talks to be acquired by Chase Manhattan Corp.