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Mexico Table of Contents


Financial System

Banking System

Mexico has one of Latin America's most developed banking systems, consisting of a central bank and six types of banking institutions: public development banks, public credit institutions, private commercial banks, private investment banks, savings and loan associations, and mortgage banks. Other components of the financial system include securities market institutions, development trust funds, insurance companies, credit unions, factoring companies, mutual funds, and bonded warehouses.

The central bank, the Bank of Mexico (Banco de México), regulates the money supply and foreign exchange markets, sets reserve requirements for Mexican banks, and enforces credit controls. It serves as the fiscal agent of the federal government, the issuing bank for the new peso, and a discount house for private deposit banks. It supervises the private banking sector through the National Banking Commission, and it provides funds for government development programs. Legislation in 1984 required the Bank of Mexico to limit its lending to the government to an amount fixed at the beginning of each year. To ensure continued control of inflation, the central bank was made autonomous in April 1994.

Mexico has a number of other official banks for agriculture, foreign trade, cooperatives, public works, housing, transportation, and the sugar industry, among other specialized purposes. The most important such development institution is the Nafinsa, which provides financial support for Mexico's industrialization program. Nafinsa provides medium-term financing and equity capital for productive enterprises, promotes Mexican investment companies, oversees the stock market and the issuance of public securities, and serves as the legal depository of government securities. By 1993 Nafinsa had divested itself of some of its interests, but it remained under state ownership. Mexico's other most important state development bank is the National Bank of Public Works and Services (Banco Nacional de Obras y Servicios Públicos).

The private banking sector consists of more than 200 banks, which together have more than 2,500 branches. The proliferation of banking institutions resulted from regulations that prohibited any single bank from combining more than two banking functions. Mexico's two largest private banks are the Bank of Commerce (Banco de Comercio--Bancomer), comprising thirty-five affiliated banks with more than 500 branches, and the National Bank of Mexico (Banco Nacional de México--Banamex). Development banks, known as financieras and organized by commercial banks in association with major industrial enterprises, provide most of the private sector's development financing.

In an effort to stem massive capital flight, President López Portillo decreed the nationalization of the country's private banks in September 1982. In August 1983, the government authorized the return of up to 34 percent of the equity shares in these banks to the private sector, and it eliminated eleven banks and merged fifty others into twenty-nine national credit institutions in an effort to improve the banking system's efficiency. In March 1985, the government announced a further reduction in the number of commercial banks, from twenty-nine to eighteen.

The government took its first actual step toward reprivatizing the commercial banks in 1987, when it returned 34 percent of their capital to private investors in the form of nonvoting stock. In 1990 it allowed the sale to foreign investors of 34 percent of nonvoting shares in state-owned commercial banks. Reprivatization began in earnest in June 1991. By July 1992, all eighteen commercial banks had been sold to private owners, yielding more than US$12 billion. The privatization program dramatically increased the number of investors holding stock in Mexican commercial banks from just 8,000 on the eve of the 1982 nationalization to 80,000 in January 1993.

To improve the availability of credit, the government allowed the establishment of new domestic banks in Mexico in 1993, and the following year it allowed United States and Canadian banks to begin operating in Mexico. At the end of 1994, there were some fifty commercial banks in operation in Mexico, up from nineteen at the end of 1992. Mexico had forty-five brokerage houses, fifty-nine insurance companies, seventy-four leasing companies, sixty-five factoring houses, and forty-nine exchange houses.

Following the currency crisis of late 1994, the government was forced to raise interest rates sharply in order to protect the new peso by retaining existing short-term foreign investment and attracting new capital inflows. High interest rates during 1995 sharply increased the payments owed by Mexican individual and business borrowers, many of whom could not shoulder the increased burden. As a result, the share of nonperforming to performing loans held by Mexican banks rose significantly, creating a major crisis for the financial sector. During the first three quarters of 1995, the ratio of bad debts to the banking system's total loan portfolio increased from 8 percent to 17 percent. Partially as a result, the rate of growth in commercial bank financing of private-sector activities declined to just 1 percent during this period, compared with 19 percent a year earlier.

The interest rate increase also raised the cost to banks and the government of the various efforts to resolve the problem of banks' nonperforming loans. In late 1994, the government took over Banca Cremi, and a year later it was forced to take control of Inverlat. The government also agreed to assume problem loans held by Banamex and Bancomer.

In the wake of the financial sector crisis, the government introduced in mid-1995 a program for rescheduling bank loans using index-linked investment units. In September 1995, the government unveiled another emergency program of aid for bank debtors, which was to provide relief for 8 million bank debtors. By February 1996, 83 percent of eligible loans had been restructured under this program. By mid-1996, the cost of the government's various efforts to prevent a banking system collapse was estimated at 91 billion new pesos. The government held control of 25 percent of bank assets, despite having privatized the banking system only four years earlier. The government's efforts to restore the financial sector's stability were rewarded by a sharp drop in interest rates in late 1995 and early 1996.

Data as of June 1996

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Mexico Table of Contents