After decades of going it alone overseas, Citicorp has begun eyeing possible acquisitions around the world.
According to several news reports, Citicorp is among the interested parties looking at banks for sale in Mexico, Venezuela, and Poland.
A Citicorp spokesman confirmed that the bank has begun hunting for acquisitions outside the United States.
"Acquisitions are not a cornerstone of our strategy, but we will very carefully consider making acquisitions that will further our business strategy," the spokesman said.
He cited investment products and emerging markets as two areas in which Citicorp is looking at possible acquisitions.
Buying a foreign financial institution would constitute a significant shift in strategy for Citicorp, which has the biggest international network of any U.S. bank.
Although Citicorp did buy a German consumer bank in the 1970s and two British investment banks in the 1980s, it subsequently expanded abroad by opening either branches or subsidiaries.
Analysts said that the rapid pace of economic growth overseas has led Citicorp to reconsider its traditional policy of building its international network in-house.
"I would not be surprised to see them make one or more acquisitions," said Diane Glossman, a banking analyst with Salomon Brothers Inc. "Whether they actually announce one or not is largely a function of pricing and credit."
Added Lawrence Cohn, a banking analyst with PaineWebber Inc.: "The strategy that Citicorp is enunciating pretty much requires that they make acquisitions.
"They want to be a major factor in developing markets, but as markets have moved from undeveloped to developed, their infrastructure has not been able to keep pace."
Mr. Cohn said it was still an open question whether or not Citicorp will actually buy something.
"This is a company that historically has not wanted to pay a premium to acquire quality companies," Mr. Cohn observed.
"And if you look at all the failed thrifts they acquired, the record hasn't been good."
Citicorp's hunt for an overseas acquisition comes as a large number of banks in fast-growing economies in Latin America and Eastern Europe have come up for sale, often after running into financial problems. By and large, foreign banks have moved far faster to acquire banks outside their home market than U.S. banks.
Among U.S. banks, only BankBoston Corp. has publicly confirmed it is looking to acquire banks overseas, while First Union Corp. recently purchased a small bank in Brazil.
A report in The Wall Street Journal last Thursday cited Abaco Grupo Financiero SA chairman Jorge Lankenau as confirming that Citicorp had expressed interest in acquiring a majority stake in Banca Confia, the main banking unit of the Mexican group. Acquiring Confia would give Citicorp a network of more than 300 branches in Mexico and would be a major plus for the U.S. bank, which recently has been expanding middle-market banking operations with medium-size Mexican companies.
Last month, Bloomberg News Service, citing Venezuelan newspapers, reported Citicorp as among the bidders for Venezuela's Banco Latino, while the Financial Times reported Citicorp as among the bidders for Poland's Powszechny Bank Kredytowy, a government-owned commercial bank with 45 branches.
A Citicorp spokesman declined to comment on the individual reports. He added that even if the bank buys something, it is likely to be highly selective.