) -- Spanish banking powerhouse

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA


(BBVA) is reportedly planning to expand its investment banking presence in the United States and Latin America.

The second largest bank in Spain by assets, BBVA could hire over 1,000 investment banking professionals across sales, trading and asset management over the next three years, according to an article in the

Wall Street Journal

. The bank will focus on fixed income, commodities and merger advisory services, with a special focus on Latin America and Asia-led deals.

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According to the article, the bank will spend approximately $557.2 million ( ¿400 million) to create a technology platform to support the expansion efforts and an "unspecified amount" for hiring investment banking professionals. BBVA's current investment banking staff includes 4,000 employees in 27 countries, the Journal said.

Speculation has

been growing for several months that European banks, emboldened by the weakness of their U.S. counterparts, would use the financial crisis as an opportunity to expand in the lucrative investment banking business.

During the summer

Banco Santander

( STD) held discussions with Buffalo, N.Y-based

M&T Bank

(MTB) - Get M&T Bank Corporation (MTB) Report

. Those discussions eventually fell through, but fueled further industry speculation that European banks with relatively healthy balance sheets would look to create a U.S. foothold.