As Mexico's economy strengthens, BankAmerica Corp. is renewing its effort to build a consumer banking business in the Latin American nation.

"We are looking at our options for establishing a retail banking presence in Mexico and will take a decision before yearend," a spokeswoman for the San Francisco banking company said.

She declined to comment on a Mexican news report that BankAmerica is considering acquiring a minority stake in Mexico's Grupo Financiero Bancrecer SA for $200 million.

The report came amid renewed interest among U.S. banks in Mexico as that country's economy strengthens three years after a major financial crisis.

For example, Citicorp recently acquired the operations of Banca Confia, along with about 200 branches, and Chase Manhattan Corp. has begun issuing credit cards in Monterrey. BankBoston Corp. executives have also indicated that they plan to expand their activities in Mexico.

In an interview this month, Ignacio Sosa, BankBoston's managing director for emerging markets, noted that most Mexican banks had stopped lending and that U.S. banks have limited their activities to dealing with the top 30 Mexican corporations and to trading and investment banking operations.

The report on BankAmerica, published in the Monterrey daily El Norte, cited sources as saying that the California bank is considering acquiring $200 million worth of a $500 million capital increase by Bancrecer.

Bancrecer, Mexico's sixth-biggest bank, with about $6.5 billion of assets, announced this year that it would sell a $300 million majority stake to a group of foreign investors led by Germany's Allianz insurance company.

The Monterrey paper added that the Mexican bank is also negotiating with Spain's Argentaria and another unidentified financial institution over buying a stake.

BankAmerica already runs a corporate finance subsidiary in Mexico City and has opened branches in other Mexican cities in an effort to build business with middle-market corporations.

The banking company is scheduled to merge this year with NationsBank Corp., which has a sizable trade finance business in its own Mexico City subsidiary.

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