Convinced that Romania is moving ahead economically, several leading U.S. banks are having a second look at the Eastern European nation.
Bankers said Romania's voracious need for investments, a relatively large and well-educated population, a well-developed industrial infrastructure, and significant natural resources are turning the country into an increasingly attractive market.
"We're quite optimistic about Romania," said Shahzad Shabaz, senior vice president and regional manager for BankAmerica Corp. in London. "It's clearly leading the way in the Balkans."
"We think the prospects for increasing business are rather good," said Harold Meyerman, a managing director at Chase Manhattan Corp.
The increased interest in Romania follows last year's election of Emil Constantinescu as president. A reformist, Mr. Constantinescu is moving to privatize government-owned corporations, including banks.
The conviction that Romania's economy is heating up has also sent the Bucharest stock exchange soaring fivefold in local currency terms and enabled one of Romania's biggest banks, Banca Comerciala Romana, to issue a $75 million Eurobond.
For decades, Chase Manhattan Corp. was the only U.S. bank with a branch in Romania's capital, Bucharest. Chase focused mainly on trade finance and correspondent banking.
This year, Citicorp has opened a local bank, Citibank Romania SA, to handle cash management, treasury, and money market activities for multinational and Romanian corporations; to finance infrastructure projects; and to help the National Bank of Romania obtain external financing.
American Express Bank has applied to open a representative office to handle correspondent banking and trade finance. Bankers Trust New York Corp. is considering the option of opening a representative office. And BankAmerica is developing trade finance, project finance in the energy sector, and fund-raising for Romanian companies and government agencies on the international capital markets.
Until now, American Express has handled its business in Romania from Vienna. Giovan B. Cagninelli, executive director at American Express Bank in charge of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said the bank decided to open an office to strengthen ties with Romanian financial institutions and public and private companies.