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Edited Transcript of BLX earnings conference call or presentation 19-Jul-19 3:00pm GMT

Q2 2019 Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior SA Earnings Call

Panama City Jul 25, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior SA earnings conference call or presentation Friday, July 19, 2019 at 3:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Ana Graciela de Méndez

Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - Executive VP of Finance & CFO

* Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky

Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO

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Conference Call Participants

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* Robert Tate

Global Rational Capital Management Ltd. - Founder & Investment Coordinator

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Hello, everyone, and welcome to Bladex's Second Quarter 2019 Conference Call on the 19th day of July 2019. This call is being recorded and is for investors and analysts only. If you are a member of the media, you are invited to listen only. Bladex has prepared a PowerPoint presentation to accompany their discussion. It is available through the webcast and on the bank's corporate website at www.bladex.com. Joining us today are Mr. Gabriel Tolchinsky, Chief Executive Officer; and Ms. Ana Graciela de Mendez, Chief Financial Officer. Their comments will be based on the earnings release, which was issued earlier today and is available on the corporate website.

The following statement is made pursuant to the safe harbor for our forward-looking statements described in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. In these communications, we may make certain statements that are forward-looking such as statements regarding Bladex's future results, plans and anticipated trends and the markets affecting these results and financial condition. These forward-looking statements are Bladex's expectations on the day of the initial broadcast of this conference call, and Bladex does not undertake to update these expectations based on these subsequent events or knowledge. Various risks, uncertainties and assumptions are detailed in the bank's press release and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize or should any of our underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may differ significantly from results expressed or implied in these communications.

And with that, I am pleased to turn the call over to Mr. Tolchinsky for his presentation.

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [2]

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Thanks, Travis. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. Before Ana Graciela delves into key aspects of our earnings results for the second quarter, I would like to discuss with you the economic and business environment in Latin America, important developments that took place during the quarter and the impact of these recent developments on our perception of risk and financial results.

During our last 3 quarters' conference calls, we mentioned that the credit quality of our portfolio, cost structure and allowances for expected credit losses set the base to improve our earnings generation capacity. Our second quarter 2019 results are another step in that direction.

On the economic and business environment front, once again, our diminished expectations for Latin America's economic growth continued to be challenged by the global macroeconomic environment as well as by Brazil and Mexico, the 2 largest economies in Latin America, with growth expectations for the region now hovering around 1%.

Starting with the global macroeconomic context. The U.S. dollar is strong. Protectionist rhetoric on trade and tariffs from the U.S. is a weekly occurrence, and then envisioned slowdown of economic activity in China, Europe and the U.S. became a reality in the second quarter of 2019.

After switching to a neutral mode on the direction of interest rates in the first quarter, the Federal Reserves started setting the stage in the second quarter for lowering rates in the second half of the year. While short-term rates remained relatively stable, the prospect of lower rates lowered the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury to around 2%, thereby inverting the U.S. dollar yield curve. And an inverted yield curve is usually a harbinger of an economic slowdown, which usually weakens the U.S. dollar.

Nevertheless, further economic deceleration in Europe and China continued to make the U.S. dollar attractive, reducing fund flows to emerging markets in general and Latin America in particular. With lower fund flows to Latin America, sagging investment in key countries has become a drag on the region's economic growth. Today, our growth estimates for the Brazilian economy, for example, are below 1%. These estimates are down from expectations of 2% in the first quarter and from above 2.5% at the end of 2018. Mexico is now expected to grow at 1.2%, down from estimates of 1.6% in the first quarter and close to 2% at the end of 2018. Argentina, the third largest economy in Latin America, is still in the midst of a recession that's exacerbated by restrictive fiscal guidelines under their IMF agreement and the impact of slow growth from its neighbor, Brazil.

Overall, our adjustments to economic growth are driven by lower investments, the prospect of diminishing trade volumes, the weight of lower growth rates from developed markets but also importantly, by the uncertainty over the capacity of the current leadership in these countries to either survive politically as in the case of Argentina, follow through with the free market agenda as in the case of Mexico or enact the necessary fiscal reforms in sufficient magnitude to reverse structural deficit as in the case of Brazil.

The prospect of passage of the pension reform plan in Brazil have improved after it was approved by the first reading in the Lower House. There's a second vote in the Lower House of Congress before it moves to the Senate, where there's also 2 votes in that house of Congress. Nevertheless, the President's waning popularity may dilute the bill and, therefore, the magnitude of fiscal savings.

On the economic front, as we mentioned in the previous call, we see the engines of growth for the Brazilian economy tied to internal demand and investment, not to export industries, primarily because prices for some key export soft commodities such as sugar and soybeans are still depressed. Passage of fiscal reform is key to restoring confidence and growth for a pickup in both internal demand and in investment.

In Argentina, we are adjusting our exposure down as we get closer to the August primary and the October election. Although both candidates appear to be espousing free-market positions, the uncertainty of a popular backlash against fiscally restricted policies from the IMF program and high levels of debt could sway the new administration to restructure existing obligations, always a messy outcome.

We continue to believe that the macroeconomic and regional context offers no room for complacency. Furthermore, the combination of slow growth and risk aversion is exacerbating liquidity for the top names in the region, compressing their margins, not always compensating for the risk these credits represent. Against this backdrop, we continually analyze the risk/reward function at the country level to adjust our portfolio accordingly. As we mentioned in previous calls, with 79% of our Commercial portfolio less than 1 year of remaining life, Bladex is in a privileged position to dynamically adjust portfolio exposures. We continue to see opportunities to grow our exposure in some countries of Central America and the Caribbean as well as in Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Chile.

Our book of business is solid. We are identifying new prospects, we're increasing share of wallet with our existing client base and are structuring value-added transactions with key clients. Although our focus on high-quality borrowers and persistent U.S. dollar liquidity in key markets put pressure on our origination margins, Bladex continues to originate at stable lending spreads and, with a better asset mix, improving the lending spread of the overall portfolio. Our pipeline of syndicated and structured transactions tied to Latin American integration is also solid and should help us get closer to the 40% exposure we look for in our model portfolio for medium-term loans as well as increasing our fee income.

Deposits, particularly from our Class A shareholders, now represent 55% of our funding structure. We appreciate the trust and commitment of the region's central bank and the impact of these -- that these deposits have on improving our cost of funds. On the cost side, expenses for the quarter continued to be under control. We reiterate our statement from the last 2 calls that net of restructuring and other nonrecurring charges and seasonality, our recurrent expenses continue to decline.

As you'll hear from Ana Graciela, our credit impaired loans aren't changed from last quarter. Our credit reserve coverage and Tier 1 capital ratio continued to be very strong, and our book value remains solid above $25 a share. That is why our Board of Directors approved to maintain a $0.385 a share dividend. Against this backdrop, the management of Bladex as well as its Board of Directors is cautiously optimistic for the second half of 2019 and look for a continuation of the profitability task we embarked on, on the last 2 quarters.

With these initial and brief comments, I will now turn the call over to our CFO, Ana Graciela, to provide you with more color about our financial performance in Q2 2019.

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Ana Graciela de Méndez, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - Executive VP of Finance & CFO [3]

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Thank you, Gabriel. Good morning to everyone, and thank you for your participation in our call. I will now review the results for the second quarter and first half of 2019, making reference to the presentation that we have uploaded on our website.

So on Page 4, you can see the continuous improvement in our profitability both on a quarterly and on a year-to-date basis. This performance was achieved with the contribution of virtually all line items with revenue growth supported by a positive quarterly trend in net interest margin, fees and Commercial portfolio balances; lower year-on-year expense levels; stable NPLs and high-quality portfolio origination, which in turn resulted in low credit provisioning; and finally, the absence of losses on nonfinancial assets accounted for in the second quarter of 2018.

The bank's second quarter 2019 profits of $22.3 million or $0.56 per share represented a 34% increase with respect to the year before and were up 5% on a quarter-on-quarter basis. For the first half of 2019, profits amounted to $43.5 million, a 40% increase compared to last year. With these results, we were able to achieve a 9% return on average equity, a 1.4% return on average assets and an efficiency ratio of 31% while maintaining a solid level of capitalization at 20% of Tier 1 Basel III ratio.

Now I will refer to the evolution of net interest income and the impact of financial margins and loan trends on Page 5. Net interest income for the second quarter of 2019 remained relatively stable at close to $28 million with respect to both the first quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2018. The bank's loan portfolio, the main driver of net interest income, remained relatively stable for the quarter with an average balance of 1% year-on-year and down 2% quarter-on-quarter to $5.4 billion.

Loan origination remained solid at $3 billion during the quarter, offsetting maturities by over $90 million, translating into a quarter-on-quarter end-of-period loan balances increase of 2% to $5.6 billion, a similar level from a year ago.

Net interest margin of 1.81% for the second quarter of 2019 represented a 7 basis points increase with respect to the previous quarter and was stable year-on-year.

Margins were positively impacted during the quarter by lower average funding cost and the continued decrease of average liquidity to historical levels, hence improving the mix and yield of financial assets, while lending spreads and average loans remained relatively stable.

For the first 6 months of 2019, the bank's net interest income increased by 3% year-on-year to $56 million. And the net interest margin increased by 2 basis points to 1.77%, reflecting the bank's effective management of its interest rate gap position in a period of increasing market rate as the bank's LIBOR-based loan rates repriced at a higher level than the LIBOR-based rates of its funding, more than offsetting a decrease in lending spreads on the account of higher-quality loan origination and which has been stabilized in recent quarters.

Now moving on to Page 6. Fees and commissions increased to $5.1 million for the second quarter of 2019, representing a quarter-on-quarter increase of 118% on the account of 2 syndicated transactions closed during the quarter compared to none in the previous quarter, reflecting the uneven nature of this transactional business. Fees for the quarter stood at a similar level year-on-year.

The bank continues to be an active and relevant player in the structuring and syndications Latin American market, supporting clients with their growth plans and cross-border operations. For the first 6 months of 2019, fees totaled $7.5 million, an 8% decline over the previous year, due to lower letter of credit fees, partly offset by a better performance and fee level from the syndications business.

From Pages 7 through 9, we present the evolution and composition of our Commercial portfolio. At June 30, 2019, Commercial portfolio totaled $6.2 billion, representing a 3% increase quarter-on-quarter as well as year-on-year. Total Commercial portfolio continued to be mostly short term, with 79% maturing in the next 12 months and an average remaining tenor of close to 10 months. 56% of the bank's short-term Commercial portfolio is specifically trade related.

The bank's high-quality origination is evidenced by the overall exposure to financial institutions, sovereigns and quasi-sovereigns, which represented 70% of total Commercial portfolio as of June 30, 2019. Financial institutions alone represent the largest industry exposure with 56% of the total at quarter end.

Other relevant industry exposures are the integrated and downstream oil and gas sectors with 7% and 4%, respectively, of total exposure as of June 30, 2019. These sectors' exposures represent the bank's historical participation in credit related to strategic oil and refined products' exports and imports to sovereign and quasi-sovereign entities across the region through the issuance and confirmation of letters of credit as well as financing. The remaining overall exposure is well diversified among several industry sectors with no other industry exceeding 5% of total exposure.

At June 30, 2019, Brazil's exposure decreased to 16% of total portfolio from 18% in the previous quarter on the account of the bank's view of risks not being compensated by the adequate returns in this market and on the continued effort to a more diversified country exposure. Nonetheless, Brazil remains the largest country exposure. The average remaining tenor of the country's portfolio is lower than 9 months with 84% maturing in the next 12 months.

Our exposure in Mexico remained relatively stable, accounting for 14% of the total portfolio compared to 15% in the previous quarter, and it remains focused on strategic state enterprises and private sector exporting corporations with participation in the North American trade flows. We continue to closely monitor the country's evolution in terms of the new government policies, GDP growth and investment, the impact of Pemex's proposed restructuring program as well as the pending approval of the USMCA by U.S. Congress, among other issues.

Given the uncertainty, we continue to favor a short-tenor origination approach in the country. 72% of Mexico's portfolio matures in the next 12 months, and the average tenor is approximately 11 months. Argentina's exposure is down to 6% of the total portfolio compared to 9% in the preceding quarters, executing on our plan to reduce the country's exposure in view of the uncertain outcomes of the coming presidential elections, which are critical to the country's overall risk profile and the needed ongoing availability of external financing.

We maintain a short-term approach with strategic state entities and top-tier international banks and exporting corporations. 64% of the portfolio in Argentina matures in the next 12 months, and the average tenor of the portfolio is approximately 13.5 months.

We have successfully increased our portfolio in Chile, where we continue to see good risk reward opportunities. At June 30, 2019, Chile's exposure accounted for 8% of total portfolio compared to 4% in the previous quarter. And we also maintain a 30% exposure in the Central American and Caribbean region, the bank's natural market for its geographic proximity, of which 72% is with banks, sovereigns and quasi-sovereigns. 76% of this portfolio in this region matures in the next 12 months, and the average tenor of the portfolio is approximately 10 months.

On Page 10 now, we present the evolution of credit impaired loans, or NPLs, and of allowances of credit losses. NPL balances remained unchanged during the quarter at $65 million, representing 1.16% of total loans with a reserve coverage of 1.6x. IFRS 9 Stage 3 individual allowances allocated to these NPL portfolios increased to $57 million during the quarter, representing 8% -- 88% of NPL balances in view of this credit's restructuring evolution.

IFRS 9 Stage 2 allocated reserves decreased during the quarter on the account of reduced credit exposure in this category related to collections in our watch list exposure as well as reductions in exposures to countries impacted by internal country rating such as Argentina. All of the exposure in this category remains current.

Our IFRS 9 Stage 1 exposure and its associated credit allowances increased on the account of higher portfolio origination relative to maturities, reflecting an improved composition of our Commercial portfolio. This Stage 1 exposure, which relates to the performing portfolio with credit conditions unchanged since origination, continued to be the most relevant with 94% of total exposure at quarter end.

On Page 11, the bank continued to improve its efficiency with a sustained focus on expense control and process improvement, evidenced by the declining trend in year-to-date expenses and by the improvement on the bank's efficiency ratio for second quarter and first half of 2019 to 31%.

Second quarter 2019 expenses amounted to 6-point -- I'm sorry, $10.6 million, representing a 7% decrease year-on-year and a 7% increase quarter-on-quarter, while operating expenses for the first half of the year were down 20% from the year before, totaling $20.4 million. The year-on-year expense reduction mostly relates to lower variable compensation and other employee expenses related to the personnel restructuring process that the bank underwent in the first month of 2018 as well as to the resulting lower salary expense base. The quarter-on-quarter increase is mainly attributable to higher business-related expenses when compared to a seasonally low first quarter.

On Page 12, we present the positive ROE evolution, which reached 9% in this past quarter, while the bank maintains a solid capitalization of over 20%. Like Gabi mentioned, the Board of Directors kept the dividend payment unchanged at $0.385 per share, which represents a 68% payout over quarterly earnings.

I will now turn the call back over to Gabriel to open the Q&A session.

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [4]

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Thank you, Ana Graciela. Travis, you can now open the call to the Q&A session.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) We have no questions in the queue at this time.

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [2]

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Thank you, everybody. Oh, I believe that there is a question coming in.

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Operator [3]

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Yes, we did have someone. We have a question from Robert Tate, Global Rational Capital.

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Robert Tate, Global Rational Capital Management Ltd. - Founder & Investment Coordinator [4]

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I am Robert. (inaudible) You've done really well this quarter again. I just want to congratulate you on the good results.

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [5]

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Thank you, Robert.

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Ana Graciela de Méndez, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - Executive VP of Finance & CFO [6]

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Thank you, Robert.

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [7]

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Very much appreciated.

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Robert Tate, Global Rational Capital Management Ltd. - Founder & Investment Coordinator [8]

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(inaudible) So as I mentioned, you've done very well this year despite the headwinds, and you tried to achieve a 10% or double-digit return on equity. And I was just wondering, so -- and you've (inaudible). How are you able to do so well despite the difficult environment? And why are there not more nonperforming loans given that (inaudible) you mentioned in the first part of your call?

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [9]

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Okay. Thank you for your question, Robert. Some of your comments were cut off because of bad communication, but I think I got the gist of the question. And let me start answering by saying that in this environment, we need to, of course, have very sturdy and strict credit underwriting standards, and we do so, and also pay good attention to overall portfolio allocation. We are reducing exposure in countries like Argentina because of the potential for volatility, particularly from the political side, but we're able to increase exposure in Central America and the Caribbean, where our margins are very good and we have very good presence in those countries.

So from a big picture portfolio allocation, we're able to navigate Latin America based on where the appropriate risk reward is. And from a more micro level, we have been doing very good transactions. As Ana Graciela mentioned, we've done 2 significant syndicated transactions at good margin levels. That is additive to our portfolio.

Overall, we are able to still find our good spots within what we consider an overall challenging environment. Challenging doesn't always mean that it will translate to NPLs. It just means that we need to be careful on how we underwrite. The bulk of our portfolio is short term in nature. As we mentioned before, around 79% of our exposure matures within a year. That means that we have the capacity to move around and stay away from a difficult situation, very much a product of the de-risking that we took on starting in 2017 all the way to 2018, and are able to really have constructed a portfolio that we feel very comfortable with and able to adjust exposure accordingly based on changing macro and micro wins.

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Robert Tate, Global Rational Capital Management Ltd. - Founder & Investment Coordinator [10]

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Right. Yes. And just a question for you both. The Stage 2 exposure, and sort of (inaudible) that's quite an important category, I think, and perhaps one that (inaudible). I was wondering if you could just describe the general composition of the Stage 2 exposure (inaudible) country.

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Ana Graciela de Méndez, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - Executive VP of Finance & CFO [11]

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Yes. Robert, thank you. Yes, Stage 2 exposure, this is a category under IFRS 9, as I mentioned. And basically, the accounting standard, what it asks is that in any case where we see that exposures or the conditions of the exposures change with respect to when they were originated, it implies that we have to move from allocating credit reserves on a 1-year basis rather than on lifetime. So when we put exposures from Stage 1 to Stage 2, it means that some conditions have deteriorated to this portfolio since these loans were originated.

Now what does this translate to is that whenever we -- a risk area determines that there has been certain deterioration in a country or an industry, that means that -- or we give an internal downgrade to the country risk, all the exposures that are closely associated to this country exposure is analyzed, and then it's put on this Stage 2 category until it matures because it was originated in different risk conditions.

But it -- I emphasize that this exposure is performing, and in our perspective, it continues to be with very good clients and it continues to follow very strict credit procedures in terms of the underwriting that Gabriel mentioned. So it's just an accounting rule that we have to follow.

We do have a small portion of this portfolio, which we have in our watch list. Like I mentioned, we continue to get paid on that, and it's a very small portion of that. I think at the end of the quarter, it totaled $30 million. So in general terms, it's nothing that we particularly worry about in terms of -- it's just an accounting standard that we have to follow. I don't know, Gabriel, if you...

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [12]

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Right. I think that summarizes it very well. Thank you.

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Robert Tate, Global Rational Capital Management Ltd. - Founder & Investment Coordinator [13]

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Yes. And just in terms of the industries and countries that are in that category, I presume it would be countries like maybe Argentina and industries, perhaps sugar, maybe oil and gas. Is that correct? Or what industries and countries within that category of exposure?

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [14]

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A significant amount of the exposure there is Argentina and Costa Rica, both countries that were downgraded in the last few months, and that is the bulk of the increase. But the underlying credits are not only performing. Those are good credits with absolutely no delays, and we don't have any concerns as to the capacity of these borrowers to repay their debts.

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Robert Tate, Global Rational Capital Management Ltd. - Founder & Investment Coordinator [15]

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Okay. Okay. Great. Just on the provision for the (inaudible) that was (inaudible) 3 of last year. I think the -- that (inaudible) Stage 3 exposure. And from what I (inaudible) particular loan went from 75% in quarter 4 of last year to (inaudible) in quarter 1 to, I think, it's about 85% now just looking at your numbers.

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Ana Graciela de Méndez, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - Executive VP of Finance & CFO [16]

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Yes. We're kind of losing you, Robert.

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [17]

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I'm sorry, Robert. We've lost you.

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Robert Tate, Global Rational Capital Management Ltd. - Founder & Investment Coordinator [18]

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Yes. Okay. (inaudible) I guess the impairment of the sugar loan, I think it's at 85% provision. Is that about right at the moment?

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [19]

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That is about right.

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Ana Graciela de Méndez, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - Executive VP of Finance & CFO [20]

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Yes. That's correct.

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Robert Tate, Global Rational Capital Management Ltd. - Founder & Investment Coordinator [21]

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Okay. Okay. And then I think...

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [22]

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Robert, I am so sorry. We're going to have to maybe pick this up outside the call because we are unable to hear, and probably the rest of the participants in the conference call are unable to hear you. So we're happy to entertain your questions directly.

Travis, if you want to open up for more questions or wrap the call, please take over. Thank you.

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Operator [23]

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(Operator Instructions) And there is no questions in the queue at this time, I'd like to turn the call back over to you, sir.

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Natalio Gabriel Tolchinsky, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - CEO [24]

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Thank you, everybody, and we look forward to talking to you in -- after we report numbers for the third quarter. And have, everyone, a very good day. Bye-bye.

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Ana Graciela de Méndez, Banco Latinoamericano de Comercio Exterior, S.A - Executive VP of Finance & CFO [25]

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Thank you.

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Operator [26]

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Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today's teleconference. You may now disconnect.