* The U.S. said Tareck El Aissami, former Venezuelan vice president and current minister of industry and national production, was charged for using U.S. companies in transactions forbidden under U.S. sanctions and drug trafficking laws, The Wall Street Journal reported. Prosecutors said El Aissami and his associate, Samark Lopez, violated the sanctions by allegedly using private planes sponsored by U.S. companies in organizing private meetings around the world. The U.S. placed the sanctions two years ago following claims of El Aissami's ties with drug trafficking.
* Peruvian Prime Minister Cesar Villanueva resigned in the middle of calls for President Martin Vizcarra to revamp his cabinet and boost government approval ratings, Reuters reported. A replacement has yet to be named, but Justice Minister Vicente Zeballos is among those considered for the post, two government officials who asked for anonymity told the newswire.
* Banco Macro SA's fourth-quarter 2018 profit rose 67% from a year earlier to about 5.24 billion Argentine pesos, from 3.13 billion pesos. Net interest income was up 19% annually to 12.29 billion pesos, while net fee income improved by 38% to 3.14 billion pesos. These helped offset a 98% surge in provisions for loan losses and a 51% increase in administrative expenses.
MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA
* Moody's upgraded Panama's long-term foreign currency issuer and senior unsecured debt ratings to Baa1 from Baa2. Moody's also revised Panama's outlook to stable from positive, reflecting its belief that Panama will continue to grow and outpace the growth of most of its Baa-rated peers.
* Mexican Finance Minister Carlos Urzúa said he will announce new measures to reduce the use of cash in the country, including the issuance and collection of government payments only through electronic channels, El Economista reported. Tax incentives will also be set up for professional service providers who will accept electronic payments, Urzúa also said.
* Mexico's Grupo Financiero Citibanamex S.A. de C.V. said it is ready for the pilot testing of the electronic billing and payment platform Código Digital or CoDi with the use of QR codes, El Economista reported. Citibanamex is expected to use CoDi on regular basis beginning in September.
* A team from the International Monetary Fund said the agency reached a preliminary agreement with Jamaica on economic policies for the country, tied to the IMF's precautionary standby arrangement with the country. The IMF's Executive Board will hold a meeting scheduled for April, and if approved, it will extend an additional loan of about $224 million to Jamaica under that previous credit line.
* Banco Bradesco SA redesigned its wholesale branch, expanding its segmentation according to the volume of business of its customers, Valor Econômico reported. The aim is to improve profitability of operations with medium-sized and large companies, and "to better manage credit risk and improve the quality of service," Marcelo Noronha, the bank's vice president for the corporate area, told the newspaper.
* Caixa Econômica Federal expects to obtain at least 15 billion reais with the listing of four of its subsidiaries, namely Caixa Seguradora, Caixa Cartões, Caixa Loterias, and Caixa Asset, bank president Pedro Guimarães told O Globo in an interview. Caixa Seguradora and Caixa Cartões are set to be listed between September and December while Caixa Loterias, and Caixa Asset are scheduled between January and April 2020.
* The International Monetary Fund estimates growth in Colombia will strengthen to 3.5% in 2019 from 2.7% a year ago, supported by strong private consumption and recovering business investment.
* Banco Central de la República Argentina's benchmark interest rate March 8 jumped to 57.89% from 51.86% the day prior, after a week that saw the local currency drop to a record low. During the day, the central bank sold a total of about 206.19 billion pesos in two auctions of Leliq notes, above an announced figure of 185.00 billion pesos and a diversion from the usual routine of just one daily auction.
* Grupo Financiero Galicia SA's sale of a 7.7% stake in Prisma Medios de Pago SA for $106 million will produce a "significant gain" that should bolster the financial group's first-quarter results, investor relations chief Pablo Firvida said. The executive noted that 60% of the total was paid in cash, which is expected to flow through its first-quarter earnings statement, while the remaining 40% was financed over five years and will appear in future quarters as the installments come through.
* Grupo Financiero Galicia SA sees virtually no real loan growth for 2019, arguing that Argentina's extremely high interest rates will have to come down before credit can pick up steam, investor relations chief Pablo Firvida said in an earnings call. "What we need to recover loan growth in real terms is definitely lower interest rates. Badlar was around 22% one year ago, now it is closer to 37%," he noted. Firvida noted Galicia expects the rate, which is used by banks in Argentina as a benchmark for loan pricing, to gradually fall to 30% by the end of the year.
* BICECORP SA completed its acquisition of 100% of Grupo de Inversiones Suramericana SA's life insurance annuity business in Chile for about US$214 million. BICECORP previously said that it plans to merge Sura's insurance annuity business with its own life insurance subsidiary, BICE Vida Compañía de Seguros SA, following completion of the deal.
IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
* Asia-Pacific: China may let shadow banks resume ops; Westpac, CBA face customer complaints
* Middle East & Africa: Isracard IPO gains steam; no tax hike in Saudi Arabia; Amen Bank gets new chair
* North America: JPMorgan combines 2 groups; Citi setting up Singapore forex platform
Pablo Jiménez Arandia contributed to this article.
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