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Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks during his weekly broadcast 'Alo Presidente' in Maracay Dec. 6, 2009


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was heading to a summit in Uruguay on Monday in the hope he had quashed public panic and gained political ground in a purge of the South American nation's financial sector.

The following are some facts about Venezuela's banking sector:

* Venezuela has about 50 banks and financial institutions with deposits worth an estimated $115-billion (U.S.) and a credit portfolio of $70-billion, according to an October report from local financial group Softline Consultores.

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* The government has in the last week closed seven small banks, accounting for about 8 per cent of total deposits, citing mismanagement and solvency problems. The state plans to take over and reopen five of them.

* Venezuela's top 10 banks account for 68.5 per cent of the banking system's $115-billion in deposits and 73 per cent of its $70-billion credit portfolio. Analysts and officials say Venezuela's big banks are well-capitalized and profitable.

* Of the top 10 banks, two are state-owned, Banco de Venezuela and Banfoandes. The rest are in private hands.

* Foreign involvement is small. Only one of the top 10 banks is foreign owned, BBVA Banco Provincial, controlled by Spain's BBVA.

* In July the government bought Banco de Venezuela from Spain's Grupo Santander for $1.05-billion. Santander still owns Bancrecer, a small Venezuelan development bank.

* Citibank and ABN AMRO have small operations in Venezuela, mainly for corporate clients.

* Mr. Chavez has accused some bankers of not complying with Venezuelan law, which includes strict requirements to extend credit to small businesses and farmers at low interest rates. He said he was prepared to nationalize any banks, or even the whole system, if they do not obey.

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* The government says state bank insurance agency Fogade will protect almost all depositors in the seven closed financial institutions. Mr. Chavez promised savers would have their money back before Christmas and private banks are helping the government organize.

* Mr. Chavez says he has set up a "situation room" to monitor the health and compliance of banks. While he is clearly engaged in a "cleanup" of the sector, analysts say he is unlikely to risk the instability a large-scale takeover of the banking system could provoke.

* Venezuelans are nervous about banking collapses after a crisis that started in 1994 wiped out half the nation's banks and cost the state $11-billion.

* In May Venezuela put ailing state-owned Banco Industrial into receivership following severe capitalization and administration problems. The bank's former president was arrested on corruption charges.

* Arbitrage linked to a fixed exchange rate has created opportunities for large profits in Venezuela's financial sector. Despite Mr. Chavez's anti-capitalist rhetoric, banks benefited from the country's oil-driven economic expansion until a downturn this year. Opposition parties say Chavez allies have made millions through ownership of banks and other institutions.

* In February, the government took over Stanford Bank Venezuela, owned by disgraced Texas financier Allen Stanford, after a run on deposits sparked by fraud investigations of Stanford's Antigua offshore bank. The tiny unit was otherwise healthy and the government later sold it to a local bank.

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Venezuela's op 10 banks, ranked by deposits, according to Softline:

1. Banesco (13.3 per cent)

2. Banco Mercantil (11.3 per cent)

3. Banco de Venezuela (9.9 per cent)

4. BBVA Provincial (9.6 per cent)

5. Banco Occidental de Descuento (6.3 per cent)

6. Banfoandes (5.5 per cent)

7. Banco Exterior (3.6 per cent)

8. Banco Federal (3.1 per cent)

9. Bancaribe (3.1 per cent)

10. Banco Nacional de Credito (2.9 per cent)

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