J.P. Morgan & Co. is working on several fronts to expand its long- standing business in Latin America.

During a recent luncheon briefing, New York-based executives representing public equity and debt underwriting, private placement, private equity investment, and syndicated lending discussed trends and strategies for operating in Central and South America.

The bank's view of its prospects is buoyed by a sense of optimism about the region despite its reputation for volatility and disappointment.

Morgan bankers are excited by a number of trends, including the growing interest of the world's institutional investors in Latin American capital markets and growing issues by companies, many of which have come to exist through privatizations.

"Global investors are coming back to Latin America with their big portfolios, and they can make deals happen," said Carlos Hernandez, a managing director for Latin American investment banking at Morgan.

While the banking company is focused on Latin America's three leading economies-Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina-bank officials said other countries are filled with opportunity. Venezuela, for example.

"Venezuela is an oil story," said Jose Luis Daza, a managing director and head of emerging markets research. "The country plans to double its production, but it also has low debt. But it's only at the very beginning of its economic recovery."

In the area of syndicated loans, Morgan is working to make inroads in countries such as Venezuela, Peru, and even Bolivia and Ecuador, nations that have generally lagged the rest of the region economically.

"There is a lot of prospecting going on as borrowers approach lenders," said Kathar-ine Brengle, a vice president involved in Latin American loan syndication.

Morgan is particularly bullish about increased investment opportunities in Latin American for the bank itself, said Tim Purcell, a managing director at J.P. Morgan Capital, a unit that takes equity stakes in companies around the world.

Currently, Morgan has $160 million, or about 15% of its worldwide private equity investments, in Latin America, said Mr. Purcell. "But we would like to see our exposure in the region expand dramatically, to a total of 25% to 30%."

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