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Citi to boost Mexican ops amid broader LatAm growth plans, exec says

Citigroup Inc. aims to increase its investment in Mexican unit Grupo Financiero Citibanamex SA de CV as part of its growth plans in Latin America for 2019, Bloomberg News reported, citing Jane Fraser, Citi's CEO for Latin America.

The U.S.-based company is betting on "the fundamentals of Mexico and its strong demographics," Fraser said, noting that the country has an "under-penetrated" financial sector. "Digitization is changing consumer banking radically, so we're investing in that transformation," the executive added.

Citibanamex's third-quarter profit rose 65% year over year to 9.46 billion Mexican pesos, partly driven by proceeds from the sale of the bank's asset management business to BlackRock Inc.

In addition, Citi looks to expand its corporate and investment banking operations in Argentina, Colombia and Brazil, Fraser said. She noted that Citi grew its lending operation by about $3.5 billion in Argentina following increased investor interest in the country at the start of President Mauricio Macri's term in 2015.

In Brazil, meanwhile, Citi has been funding the expansion of its private banking activity through proceeds from the sale of its retail business to Itaú Unibanco Holding SA late in 2017, Fraser said. The executive expects "a lot of growth in Brazil" due to public-private partnerships in the energy and infrastructure sectors.

The sale of several assets in Latin America in the past years does not point to a lending decrease in the region, Fraser said. Rather, the shift in Citi's strategy has resulted in "much higher returns" in the region, with its return on tangible common equity there rising to the "mid-20s," the executive added.

As of Dec. 10, US$1 was equivalent to 20.30 Mexican pesos.