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Exclusive: Carlyle Group raising $10 billion

Private equity giant aims to get even bigger.

The Carlyle Group is looking to raise $10 billion for its next North American private equity fund, Fortune has learned.

Fund-raising already is underway, with a first close expected during the first half of this year.

Carlyle last raised a North America-focused fund in 2007, when it snared $13.7 billion for Carlyle Partners V (view its portfolio here). The new effort obviously is setting a lower bar, likely due to a softer fundraising environment.

The Blackstone Group (BX), for example, recently closed its latest global fund with $16.2 billion — compared to $21.7 billion for its predecessor fund in 2005. And then there is Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), which is said to be seeking around $9 billion for its new North American fund, after having raised $17.6 billion the last time around.

Carlyle V portfolio companies include AMC Entertainment, Dunkin’ Brands (DNKN), Freescale Semiconductor (FSL), HD Supply and The Nielsen Company (NLSN). The vehicle was 57% called through June 30, 2011 with a 9.9% internal rate of return (IRR), according to data published by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Carlyle’s second (1996), third (2000) and fourth (2005) “Partners” funds had IRRs of 25.4%, 22.7% and 11.4%, respectively.

Carlyle currently is in registration to go public, although it has not yet set terms for the offering. It is believed to be the world’s largest alternative asset manager, with $148 billion in assets under management in 89 active funds and 52 fund-of-fund vehicles.

A Carlyle spokesman declined to comment on the new fundraising effort.

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