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Three ways to make a mark

Spanish banking is clearly segmented by strategy, domestic banks competing for the retail markets and foreign banks heavily involved in offering services to multinationals and attempting to develop lower-level corporate business. With some privatizations still to be undertaken and rapid development of the equity market at both issuer and investor level there's substantial growth to play for. Margaret Popper reports.

Three years ago, Madrid's Bolsa had a daily trading volume of 30 million shares. By 1996 the figure was 70 million. In 1997 daily volume reached 90 million. When a stock market develops that fast there are bound to be worries about what is underlying the growth in liquidity. But the Madrid exchange has passed an important test. Only two weeks after last October's worldwide equity crash, its index recuperated all its losses. It is clear that the value in Spanish equities is based on a sound economy. Consumer demand is growing. Exports continue to rise faster than imports. The government estimates that overall growth in 1997 will have been 3%, outstripping the average for the European Union. At the same time interest rates are low and inflation is being held to a respectable 1.9%.

Bankers claim the sizzling stock market has attracted new financial services companies. In fact, the list of firms has not changed much over the last 10 years. Merrill Lynch has had an office in Spain since the 1959 revolution in Cuba forced it to relocate. Goldman Sachs has been there since 1987, Morgan Stanley since 1986. Salomon Brothers has been in Madrid more than a decade.

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