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Bullish Spanish fight it out

The quest for a new El Dorado

Spanish banking competitors Banco Bilbao Vizcaya (BBV) and Banco Santander have been leading the acquisition binge in Latin America. So far, which has done the best deals? Bankers believe that in most countries BBV has managed to buy better-positioned banks than Santander.

In Venezuela, BBV captured a 25% market share by buying an estimated 40% stake in Banco Provincial, one of the few banks that didn't go through a government bail-out. Santander's purchase of 93% of Banco de Venezuela, on the other hand, gave it only a 10% market share. BBV paid $375 million a few days after Santander clinched the Banco de Venezuela deal, at a cost of $269 million. "They paid less than BBV," says an investment banker, "but they got less too."

In Colombia, BBV purchased a 35% stake in the largest bank, Banco Ganadero, for $328 million, whereas Santander bought a 55% stake in the second largest, Banco Comercial Antioqueno, for $126 million.

The biggest problems appear to have occurred when Santander has tried to buy two local banks and merge them - a tactic that's more and more necessary to gain critical mass.

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