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Brazilian banks: Santander/Real merger creates new battleground

As foreign banks – with the notable exception of Santander – draw in their horns, local mid-tier banks are racing to take advantage of the domestic boom in Brazil. Chloe Hayward reports.

I-banking goes local

EMILIO BOTÍN IS a confident man. When RBS, Fortis and Santander brought ABN Amro in 2007 it was clear which of the three had struck the best deal. Botín’s Santander prised away the best asset in the ABN empire, Banco Real, and he knows it.

Real will officially become part of Santander next month and, combined with its existing Brazil business, largely comprising former state-owned Banespa, will give the Spanish bank a 10% market share in Brazil.

"Brazil is a fantastic opportunity," said Botín, chairman of Santander, in an interview for Euromoney’s August issue (And for his next trick… Botín weaves his magic at Santander). "The country has enormous potential to grow its wealth. It already has two very good, large banks in Itaú and Bradesco. But I am confident that when we put our Brazilian operations together there, within two or three years we will be at least as profitable as those two banks."

Combining the two operations means that the bank should generate a profit of $3 billion in 2008. "Our investment will be profitable in the first year," added Botín.

The question is: what will the Santander/Real deal mean for Brazil’s other banks? The coming months will be crucial for them in honing their strategies, particularly the mid-tier banks that will face increasing pressure from potential acquirers.

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