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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) sees a strong government presence in Brazil as a source for new business leads, a senior banker said on Thursday, highlighting the growing clout of the nation's public sector as an investment-banking client.
A decline in interest rates to record lows will create room for states and municipalities to access the debt capital markets in a way unheard of in the country, Aod Cunha, who heads the bank's public sector corporate banking unit, told Reuters. Government presence in the economy accounts for about 40 percent of Brazil's gross domestic product.
Under President Dilma Rousseff, measures such as interest-rates, tax reductions and regulatory changes have gained the upper hand - a sign JPMorgan bankers say is proof that state presence will stay significant in the long run. Efforts to boost investment will increase demand for specialized financial advisers among government agencies, Cunha added.
"Our opinion is that the government will continue to have a relevant participation in the economy," Cunha said in an interview at the bank's São Paulo offices. "Of all these developments, the drop in borrowing costs is probably the one that opens the most exciting business opportunities for us."
The division underscores efforts by Chief Executive Jamie Dimon to expand in Brazil by offering a complete wholesale banking platform for clients. Since the end of 2010, JPMorgan has tripled assets and doubled its headcount in Brazil. It is now the largest foreign non-retail lender in the country, according to central bank data.
The New York-based bank set up the Brazil unit almost two years ago to tap opportunities advising federal and regional governments and state pension funds on treasury management, debt underwriting and sovereign wealth fund management. JPMorgan has public sector clients in 128 countries.
For years in Brazil, high interest rates, a complex tax system and frequent boom-and-bust cycles crimped development of a local bond market. A recent surge in demand for corporate debt has pushed investors and government officials to look for new frontiers in fixed-income markets - such as structured finance products for states, cities and state-owned companies.
JPMorgan's public sector corporate banking unit is advising São Paulo, Brazil's largest city, in the sale of up to 600 million reais ($286 million) of notes backed by tax liens. The unit also helped manage the sale of $275 million in subordinated notes by Banco do Estado do Rio Grande do Sul SA (BRSR5.SA), known as Banrisul, in a reopening this week.
São Paulo, also Brazil's most indebted city, is tapping growing demand for fixed-income investments as the central bank signaled on Wednesday that it will keep borrowing costs at a record low for a prolonged time. Rates in Brazil were for years the highest among the world's 20 biggest economies.
"We have engaged in various discussions with the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais," Cunha, a former finance secretary for Rio Grande do Sul state, said. "It's a market with terrific opportunities."
States and municipalities are legally forbidden from selling debt because of federal government-imposed curbs. But analysts have said some of those curbs, which form part of the Fiscal Responsibility Law enacted in 2000, could be eased in the coming years.
The law has been a pillar of the government's financial stability in recent years, also helping regional government straighten up their finances since its implementation, he said.
According to Cunha, the stock of regional debt nears about 360 billion reais - much of which could be refinanced so it alleviates the cost of debt-servicing for states and cities. JPMorgan's expertise structuring fixed-income products could help attract deals, he noted.
($1 = 2.10 Brazilian reais)
Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Aluísio Alves; Editing by David Gregorio and Leslie Gevirtz