Putting Itself Out In Front

Feb 1, 2002

Unibanco, the Brazilian bank that has cultivated an image as a financial services provider for the rich, has dipped into the consumer market as a means of survival.

Overlooking the still, fetid waters of São Paulo's Rio Pinheiros and hemmed in by traffic-clogged expressways and highways, stands a solitary office tower that houses one of the country's most desirable businesses: União de Bancos Brasileiros, or Unibanco. It is not the largest or most profitable bank in Brazil, but it may be the easiest one for a competitor to snap up. It is a superbly managed operation that controls about 5% of the largest banking market in the southern hemisphere. Yet it trades at a 50% discount on the stock market, making it one of the cheapest banks on the continent. Citibank and Spain's Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria are two names often said to have held talks with Unibanco's majority owner, the Moreira Salles family. Yet Pedro Moreira Salles, son of the founder and the bank's current boss, insists that Unibanco is not for sale. Although any intelligent...

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