The new leader of BBVA's U.S. operations has already set a clear direction: countertrend.

Manuel Sanchez was reluctant in an interview to display the appetite for acquisitions common among bankers these days, including his former boss. Jose Maria Garcia Meyer spent the past six years taking Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA's presence here from a relatively small remittance business in California to a bank with roughly $65 billion of assets and more than 700 branches in seven states.

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