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BEST BANK: Banco Mercantil
Political risk is high in Venezuela and is likely to increase as the economy becomes more regulated. Compulsory lending requirements on banks and capital controls have made operating extremely difficult and have left privately owned banks vulnerable to a deterioration in their balance sheets. But that has not discouraged Banco Mercantil, Venezuela’s largest bank, which has a 16% market share and subsidiaries in the US and Europe. Helped by growing government banking business, a strong economy boosted by high oil prices and the sale of its stake in Colombia’s Bancolombia, Banco Mercantil posted earnings of $340 million last year, nearly double that of 2004, while its assets rose 27% to $11 billion and deposits jumped 41%.

Citigroup’s credit default swap on bolívar-denominated Venezuelan treasury bills has allowed companies to protect themselves against devaluation in the local currency, which is subject to exchange controls under the leftist government of president Hugo Chávez.

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