QCOSTARICA – Aside from the Colombian Grupo Aval, the Spanish company Banco Popular may also be in negotiations to acquire Citi’s entire consumer banking operation in Costa Rica and Central America.

The Madrid-based Banco Popular, the sixth-biggest lender in Spain, would edge out Grupo Aval Acciones y Valores SA, the Colombian banking group controlled by billionaire Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, which also was trying to buy the businesses.

Spain’s Banco Popular at the moment has no presence in Central America.

A report on Bloomberg.com noted that negotiations between the US bank and the Spanish bank are very advanced, and only the only thing left is to define the final value of the transaction, which could amount to US$1.5 billion, according to unnamed sources cited by Bloomberg.

“… The agreement could include the buyer assuming some of the entity’s bank debts, according to a source who declined to be identified because the details of the negotiations are not public. The sale price will likely exceed the book value a little, the person said, adding that negotiations are not yet over and that could change. ”

Bloomberg.com reports that “… Grupo Aval Acciones y Valores SA, the Colombian financial group led by Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, is also in the process of negotiating to acquire the consumer bank. ”

Citigroup is selling its retail operations in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama as Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat seeks to simplify the company and exit markets with poor returns.

Citigroup said in October it would exit consumer banking in 11 countries that accounted for about $1.62 billion of revenue and $7 billion in loans in the 12 months ended Sept. 30. The five Latin American nations involved in the current talks were among those 11.

Citi joins competitors including HSBC Holdings in selling overseas assets as the world’s biggest finance firms restructure following the financial crisis.

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