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Brazil is easily both the toughest and the most profitable banking market in Latin America. In 2004, both Banco Itaú and Banco Bradesco made more than $1 billion in profit, and Bradesco even beat Itaú in both the fourth quarter of 2004 and the first quarter of 2005.
Bradesco is the largest privately owned bank in Brazil, with some $70 billion in assets to Itaú's $49 billion – so the fact that it can only barely make more money than Banco Itaú is an indication of Itaú's continued efficiency and professionalism. Indeed, Itaú had a return on assets of more than 3% in 2004, a figure no other bank even approached.
Itaú has strong competition, of course, and not only from Bradesco: Unibanco has transformed itself into a retail powerhouse, the state-owned Banco do Brasil is also very powerful, and foreign-owned Santander Banespa and ABN Amro Real are formidable competitors. But Itaú is easily the biggest and best wholesale bank in the country, thanks to its 2002 acquisition of BBA-Creditanstalt, and it is now making moves in investment banking as well.