Although most Spanish banks have kept business close to home, that strategy is ripe for a change. Since Spanish banks have avoided the heavy losses other big European banks have experienced in overseas lending, they are now in great shape to take advantage of the growing global market.

"Margins are still much higher than in the rest of Europe, while operating expenses relative to other countries in Europe are much lower," said Stefano Natella, a banking analyst at First Boston Corp. in New York.

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