Itau Sees Crisis as Opportunity for Latin American Acquisitions

  • Marino says bank looking at ways to use liquidity in Argentina
  • Mexico seen as strategic, though already consolidated

Itau Unibanco Holding SA, Latin America’s largest lender by market value, said the region’s difficult market conditions might create takeover opportunities.

“All the big acquisitions and big movement we’ve done were during times of crisis,” Ricardo Villela Marino, an executive vice president and board member at Sao Paulo-based Itau, said in an interview Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s time to accelerate,” he said, adding that the bank would be particularly interested in a private bank focused on Latin American clients.

Itau has been seeking to diversify in Latin America beyond its home country. The bank agreed in January 2014 to pay at least $2.2 billion to take control of Chile’s Corpbanca, its biggest acquisition outside Brazil. Marino said Itau expects 20 percent of its loan book to be generated in Latin America outside of Brazil once it completes the merger with Corpbanca, which the company has said will happen this quarter.

Brazil is heading into its longest period without growth in more than a century, and its economy is performing worse than countries including Chile, Colombia and Peru, Marino said. Argentina and Mexico are markets that Itau is considering for expansion, he said.

“We are very liquid in Argentina and we are seeing how to better use this capital and the liquidity we have,” Marino said.

Though Mexico is strategically important, its market is consolidated and Itau won’t overpay to expand there, Marino said.

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