Political instability in Argentina and Chile is taking a toll on Itaú Unibanco Holding SA’s businesses beyond its home market of Brazil, Chief Executive Candido Bracher said on Tuesday.
Bracher told reporters that Itau, Brazil’s largest private-sector lender, slowed the pace of new loan disbursements in Argentina earlier this year as it foresaw instability stemming from presidential elections there last month.
After the victory of Peronist Alberto Fernandez, which rattled investors, Itaú plans to carefully weigh his policies once he is in office to decide on its business strategy.
“We are waiting to decide whether Itaú will reduce operations in the country or accelerate,” Bracher said. Itaú’s loan book in Argentina shrunk 10.1% in the 12 months ended in September, totaling 8.8 billion reais (US$ 2.19 billion).
In Chile, the bank was forced to temporarily shut nine of its 200 branches amid violent protests over a series of issues related to income inequality, Chief Financial Officer Milton Maluhy Filho said.
In spite of that, Bracher said, the Chilean bank is “evolving well, progressing constantly.” “We are concerned about the protests, but it seems the worst is behind us now,” Bracher said.
On Monday, Chile’s new finance minister, Ignacio Briones, cut the country’s 2019 economic growth estimate to between 2% and 2.2% from 2.6%. Itaú has controlled Itau CorpBanca, Chile’s fourth-largest commercial bank, since 2016.
Latin American operations outside Brazil are still a small part of the lender’s business, but Bracher has repeatedly said the bank aims to become more international. Its third-quarter profit for the region came in at 359 million reais, down 3.5%.
The Sao Paulo-based bank posted on Monday a 10.9% gain in third-quarter recurring net income, at 7.165 billion reais, as loan growth and cost controls offset higher provisions.
“Results benefited from an acceleration in loan growth and better fee income, which offset higher provisions and lower insurance income,” Goldman Sachs’ analysts said in a note to clients.
Last week, Banco Santander SA’s regional head for South America, Sergio Rial, said the bank was keeping its plans to bolster its Argentina consumer finance division.