(Corrects spelling of COO to Cohn from Cohen in headline)
* Client coverage in Brazil seen up by 50 pct this year
* COO Cohn sees signs global economy recovering “gradually”
* Plans to expand in Colombia, is “bullish” in Brazil
By Guillermo Parra-Bernal
SAO PAULO, April 3 (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc plans to increase the base of corporate clients it covers in Brazil by half this year as demand for corporate loans, structured finance and advisory services grows in Latin America’s largest economy, President and Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn said on Wednesday.
The New York-based firm expects to serve around 300 companies by December, about 100 more than currently, Cohn said at a news conference in São Paulo. Over the past year, Goldman Sachs has doubled the capital base of its Brazilian unit and hired aggressively to expand in the country as competition from other international financial firms wanes.
To step up client coverage, Goldman Sachs could hire 50 or more bankers to work in credit and wealth management - a pair of fast-growing market segments - this year, he said. Growth will take place despite the increased state presence in the economy because the firm’s adaptive nature in tough market conditions helps it find business opportunities where others retreat.
“We are very happy with our results in Brazil,” Cohn said. “We are more bullish on Brazil than many people out there. We have a multi-year plan top build our Brazil business.”
Goldman Sachs is seeking fast growth in Brazil, where demand for debt and hedging instruments has swelled as interest rates have fallen to all-time lows this year. Companies and investors are stepping up demand for corporate bonds, asset-backed securities and private equity fund-related vehicles that post higher returns than equities and government debt.
The bank, which last year increased the capital of its Brazilian unit to about $400 million, has doubled its workforce in the South American country over the past two years to about 300 people.
Expansion in Brazil will depend on local and global growth conditions, said Cohn, who has been a president of the investment bank since 2006.
Global growth is accelerating gradually, which should help the outlook for business, he added.
Cohn, speaking at the bank’s São Paulo headquarters with Stephen Scherr, the firm’s chief for Latin America and global head of the investment bank’s financing group, said Goldman Sachs’s plan is to keep expanding its revenue pool in so-called growth markets, although he declined to say by how much.
Goldman Sachs’s acquisition of a license to operate as a fully fledged bank in Mexico should be seen “as part of an ongoing commitment to the country. Don’t read it as a new commitment.”
The bank is likely to keep growing in Colombia, where it rose “from zero to hundreds of millions in revenue” over the past two years, with a representative office there. Other targets for expansion in Latin America include Chile and Peru.
Still, the focus remains on Brazil, he noted. Foreign investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse Group AG have faced increased competition from local rivals in Brazil as demand for wealth-management and advisory services for takeovers and capital market transactions rise.
“Brazilian banks could be the strongest in the world. They have capital, they are good, they are doing well,” Cohn said, highlighting the recent work of BTG Pactual Group, the nation’s largest independent investment bank.
Last month, Goldman Sachs named bankers Fabio Bicudo and Antonio Pereira as co-heads of investment banking in Brazil. Both Bicudo and Pereira are veterans of the New York-based firm, where the former worked in mergers and acquisitions primarily and the latter worked in debt capital markets deals for some time.
The investment bank ranked fourth in mergers and acquisitions in Brazil in the first quarter, with $704 million worth of advisory work, according to Thomson Reuters data. In terms of equity underwriting, Goldman Sachs was the No. 4 earner from Brazilian share offerings last year, with $700 million in proceeds. But it failed to make any of the top 15 spots in global debt underwriting for Brazil in the Thomson Reuters rankings. (Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Additional reporting by Asher Levine in São Paulo and Lauren LaCapra in New York. Editing by Andre Grenon)