South American portfolio not for sale, says Lloyds

Lloyds TSB roundly quashed speculation at the weekend that it planned to sell off its South American banking businesses worth up to pounds 650m.

A spokeswoman for the bank firmly denied press reports that Lloyds had hired Goldman Sachs, the American investment bank, to advise on the future of its South American businesses: "We've not appointed anyone to sell our South American businesses. We have no plans to sell."

The company has said it would like to make acquisitions with its cash pile, which reached over pounds 1bn after the sale last Friday of Business Technology Finance for pounds 235m. But it also indicated it was "not averse" to a share buy-back.

Lloyds would not comment on its longer-term plans for its South American portfolio, which includes large businesses in Brazil and Argentina and offices in 10 other countries, nor on whether it intended to build on those businesses.

It insisted there were no difficulties there. "Brazil has now become profitable. We don't have Third World debt problems," the company said.

Lloyds, which in February paid pounds 300m for the remaining half share in Banco Multiplic, its Brazilian bank, also denied suggestions that rival HSBC, which recently bought an Argentinian financial services company for pounds 380m, was making more aggressive in-roads in the region.

"We have been the most committed of all the players. We stayed in the Third World when many pulled out," said the spokeswoman. "We have been tidying up our portfolio after the TSB merger and we are looking at our businesses."

Commenting on reports that Goldman Sachs would present a proposal about the future of its South American operations to the Lloyds board, the spokeswoman said she was unaware of plans for any such presentation or whether Goldman was acting as unappointed adviser on this or any other project.

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