Bank On Latin America

By Matthew McCall | June 01, 2008 AAA

The S&P Bank Index has fallen to its lowest level since 1996, and it has been difficult for investors to make money in the bank stocks - U.S. bank stocks that is. However, if you were smart enough to venture out of the U.S. in search of banking opportunities your luck has been much better. The Latin American banks, in particular, have avoided the credit crisis that ravaged the U.S. banks.

Through May, the S&P Bank Index was down 17% and at the same time a handful of Latin American banks were up double-digits in the first five months. Because countries such as Brazil rely so heavily on commodities, the boom in oil and metals has led to a creation of new wealth in Latin America. The new rich need banks to help manage their wealth. There are five stocks in the region that I find attractive investments for investors interested in venturing to Latin America to do their banking.

The Candidates
Banco Itau
(NYSE:ITU) - Brazil's largest bank offers an array of products and services to its customers. With over 3,500 branches throughout the country, Banco Itau is able to reach a large portion of the population. Adding to the attractiveness of ITU is the fact it is one of the largest credit card issuers in Brazil. As the emerging market matures it will create more wealth and the ability of the middle class to begin using credit for large purchases. The current annual dividend yield is 0.3%.

Banco Bradesco (NYSE:BBD) - Similar to Itau, Banco Bradesco is one of Brazil's largest banks; however, Bradesco focuses more on the low and middle-class demographics in the country. This may be good or bad depending how you look at it, but the bottom line is that as more wealth is created in the country more low-income people now need access to a bank. In that regard, Bradesco has a lot of opportunity in taking advantage of the money shift. The current annual dividend yield is 0.1%.

Unibanco Uniao De Bancos (NYSE:UBB) - The third Brazilian bank is Unibanco Uniao De Bancos (UBB). It has the fewest number of branchs, with about one-third as many as Itau and ITU and Bradesco. UBB can be considered the underdog of the group, but it still boasts nearly 1,000 branches and offers services including: retail banking, credit cards, auto loans, wealth management and even M&A activity. The current annual dividend yield is 1.2%.

Bancolombia (NYSE:CIB) - Bancolombia is the leading bank of Colombia with some 700 branches in over 160 countries. The bank offers typical banking services and investment services. The beauty of Colombia is its growth potential. It is currently years behind Brazil and could turn into another Brazil in the next decade. Granted the government is not nearly as stable, but over time if the corruption continues to subside, Colombia could be one of the next great emerging markets. The current annual dividend yield for Bancocolumbia is 3.1%.

Creditcorp (NYSE:BAP) - Credicorp is the holding company for a number of financial companies based in Latin America. It has the majority interest in Peru's largest commercial bank and an insurer also based in Peru. Creditcorp's Atlantic Security subsidiary serves private banking clients in Panama. Of the five stocks, Credicorp has the most impressive short-term and long-term chart and could be considered a buy on all pullbacks. The current annual dividend yield is 1.8%.

Earn Your GED (Growth, Exposure, Diversity)
The three major reasons investors should consider the Latin American banks as investments are growth, exposure and diversity. Latin America is one of the true growth regions in the world, particularly Brazil and its surrounding countries. By investing outside the borders of the U.S. it adds diversity to your portfolio, which in turn should increase reward potential and at the same time lower risk. Finally, most investors would like some exposure to the financial sector and with the uncertainty in the U.S.-based banks, the best option is to look overseas.

For more on diversification outside of your home country's borders, check out The Importance Of Diversification and Investing Beyond Your Borders.

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