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Itaú BBA hires dealmaker Salas to head Mexico investment banking

By Guillermo Parra-Bernal

SAO PAULO, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Itaú BBA hired former Citigroup Inc banker Francisco Salas to head its investment banking unit in Mexico, as the Brazilian wholesale and investment bank seeks to expand financial advisory services in Latin America's second-largest economy.

Salas, who spent the last four years as a managing director at Citigroup covering consumer products, retail and financial companies in Latin America, will report to Alberto Múlas, Itaú BBA's senior country officer for Mexico, and to Fernando Iunes, Itaú BBA's global head of investment banking in São Paulo.

Salas will be initially in charge of a team of three Mexico City-based bankers, Múlas said in a phone interview. Itaú BBA plans to add another six bankers to Salas's financial advisory team before year-end, and another three to bolster coverage of corporate lending practices by June next year, Múlas added.

"By hiring Francisco, we are incorporating his vast expertise of Mexico in sectors that are currently flourishing," Múlas said. "The trend is to bring in more bankers like him, with bigger Latin America perspective, to help us increase our footprint in Mexico."

Parent lender Itaú Unibanco Holding SA is expanding in Latin America to help Itaú BBA's Brazilian clients seek new destinations for their money and boost credit and specialized financial services for companies in the region. A pullback from major global lenders from the region is helping Itaú BBA in its push.

Múlas expects Mexican regulators to approve the creation of a broker-dealer before the end of this year, which would further leverage the ability of Itaú BBA to land investment-banking mandates in Mexico.

So far, Itaú BBA has participated in the share offerings of Alsea SAB de CV and Promotora y Operadora de Infraestructura SAB as joint international bookrunner. Múlas said the bank is currently working on two more similar deals, without elaborating.

Once the broker-dealer is approved and firmly established, Múlas expects Itaú BBA's headcount in Mexico to reach as many as 45 people. While share offerings are currently booming in Mexico, Salas' hiring also aims at strengthening Itaú BBA's mergers and acquisitions practice in the country, he said.

To grow in Latin America, Itaú BBA and rival Brazilian banks are spending heavily to groom new talent, enhance client relations abroad and beef up their ability to place new issues to markets. Grupo BTG Pactual SA is also pushing into Mexico, Colombia and Chile.

Salas also worked for UBS AG for 14 years.

(Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; editing by Gunna Dickson)