Bankers Trust New York Corp. has led the first securitization ever of Panamanian assets.

The $55 million deal, sold to investors this week, was backed by credit card receivables due to the Banco del Istmo, a Panamanian bank.

The offering was the first Central American securitization to be rated by a bond-rating agency, receiving a BBB-minus by Duff & Phelps Credit Rating Co. That means the deal carries significant risk, but is still considered investment-grade.

The deal reflects the increasingly international nature of securitization, as American banks search far and wide for acceptable dealsto offer investors.

"The American market is very mature, and although there's significant innovation there, the real growth is abroad," said Fernando Guerrero, managing director and head of global structured finance at BT Securities Corp. "Emerging market securitizations are growing by leaps and bounds in certain countries."

But organizing these deals is tricky, because investors are wary of credit risk in Latin American and other emerging markets. Some $8 billion in emerging market securitizations have been offered to investors this year, but many deals are so speculative they have not been submitted to rating houses for investment grading.

"We only invest in rated deals," said Tony Urich of John Hancock Investments, a frequent buyer of emerging market securitizations.

Securities of only two Latin American countries - Chile and Colombia - are considered investment grade by Duff & Phelps, so bankers must devise ways to circumvent this risk to present a rated offering to investors.

The Panama deal was designed with the notion that many businessmen and tourists travel to Panama and charge expenses to their credit cards in American dollars, said Doug Lawson of Duff & Phelps. The receivables are captured in an off-shore trust before they're paid to the Panamanian bank.

Because the money never goes through Panama's borders, Mr. Lawson said, its government cannot seize the money in case of an economic crisis and investors have a much better chance of collecting.

Bankers Trust set up a similar trust for an earlier Peruvian securitization, and Citicorp did the same involving a Turkish company.

According to Mr. Guerrero, investors have been receptive to the Panamanian offering.

"It's been oversubscribed," he said, "so we've got other deals in the works."

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