Taking advantage of the banking crisis in Argentina, Citicorp is bidding to acquire some of the operations of troubled Banco Federal Argentino SA.
A Citicorp spokesman in New York confirmed the bank is bidding for part of Federal but did not provide further details. More than a half-dozen Argentine and foreign banks are also in the running for Federal, which suspended activities in early August after a severe liquidity crisis.
Federal was set up as a clearing bank nearly three decades ago by a consortium of Argentine provincial banks. It has since built up a business of its own. The bank lost more than half of its deposits in the wake of a financial scare earlier this year and had only $125 million in deposits at the end of May.
Due to a deposit flight that began in March, the number of banks operating in Argentina has shrunk to 135 from nearly 200 at yearend. Some three-dozen banks that have lost all their capital are under central bank supervision pending sale.
Christopher Ecclestone, a bank analyst with Interacciones Global Inc., in Buenos Aires, said Banco del Sud, a subsidiary of Mexico's Banamex, was among the top contenders for Federal. ABN Amro, the Amsterdam-based bank, and a joint bid by Banco Frances and Banco Rio de la Plata, were also said to have a good chance of acquiring Federal.
"The government doesn't want to be left holding some of the pieces" as it would be if Citicorp wins the bid, Mr. Ecclestone said.
Both Citicorp and Bank of Boston Corp. have been expanding rapidly in Argentina. Both banks target wealthy individuals and larger companies and finance much of their activities with local deposits. In August, Bank of Boston acquired 93 branches from a failed Argentine bank.
Citicorp has 38 branches, 17 subsidiaries, and seven affiliates in Argentina, where it has operated since 1914 and is now the third-largest private bank. At yearend the bank had about $2 billion in Argentine deposits, just behind Banco de Galicia and Banco Rio and just ahead of Bank of Boston, which has $1.7 billion in deposits.
Assets of Citicorp in Argentina climbed from $1.7 billion in 1990 to $4.2 billion at the end of 1994. Some $1 billion of total assets there are in consumer loans. The rest are in corporate finance, restructured Argentine government debt, and equity investments.
The bank has remained largely unaffected by an $8.8 billion- deposit flight from Argentine banks since the end of last year. According to Argentine central bank data, Citicorp's deposits at the end of May had risen 14.4% since November 1994 to $2.23 billion, as Argentine consumers and corporations pulled their funds out of smaller banks and put them into larger, better capitalized ones.
Analysts view the Citicorp bid as a logical step, given the bank's long presence in Argentina and its goals for expanding operations in emerging markets.
"They've been there forever, they know what the good street corners are, and all they'll have to do is integrate what they acquire," said David Berry, a banking analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. in New York.