Citigroup may get government rescue, analysts say


By Christine Harper and Bradley Keoun
Bloomberg News
Friday, November 21, 2008

NEW YORK -- Citigroup Inc. will probably get rescued by the U.S. government after a crisis in confidence erased half its stock-market value in three days, investors and analysts said.

Citigroup has more than $2 trillion of assets, dwarfing companies such as American International Group Inc. that got U.S. support this year. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke may favor a rescue to avoid the chaotic aftermath of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s bankruptcy in September.

"There is no question that Citi is in the category of 'too big to fail,'" said Michael Holland, chairman and founder of Holland & Co. in New York, which oversees $4 billion. "There is a commitment from this administration and the next to do what it takes to save Citi."

While Citigroup executives say the company has adequate capital and liquidity to ride out the crisis, its tumbling share price may shake the confidence of creditors, clients, and rating agencies. A similar scenario played out at Lehman, when Chief Executive Officer Richard Fuld declared the firm was "on the right track" five days before the firm went bankrupt.

"The market may be implying some sort of regulatory intervention," Jason Goldberg, a former Lehman analyst who now works at Barclays Capital in New York, wrote in a note to clients today. "In situations where the government has stepped in, the equity holders have not fared well."

... Pandit's Conference Call

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit told employees today that he doesn't plan to break up the company, aiming to reassure workers as the stock resumed its skid. Citigroup shares dropped 94 cents, or 20 percent, to $3.77 at 4:08 p.m. in New York, giving the company a market value of about $21 billion. The stock pared its loss after the close of official trading, fetching $4.07 as of 4:35 p.m.

Pandit and Chief Financial Officer Gary Crittenden, speaking on a worldwide conference call this morning, also said they don't expect to sell the Smith Barney brokerage unit, according to two people who listened to the call and declined to be identified because it wasn’t open to the public.

The call came as Citigroup’s board, led by Chairman Win Bischoff and independent director Richard Parsons, prepared to meet today at the bank’s headquarters in New York, said a person familiar with the company’s plans who declined to be identified because the deliberations are private. Bischoff, interviewed at a conference in Portugal today, declined to comment on any potential changes to the board.

... No. 5 By Value

Once the biggest U.S. bank, with a market value of $274 billion at the end of 2006, Citigroup has now slipped to No. 5 behind Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp. A plan by 51-year-old Pandit this week to cut costs by shedding 52,000 jobs and an endorsement by billionaire Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal didn’t assuage shareholders’ concern that bad loans and securities writedowns may extend a year-long run of net losses totaling $20 billion.

"To be consistent with the last few government interventions, I don't think Citigroup's going to be allowed to fail," said William Fitzpatrick, an analyst at Optique Capital Management Inc. in Milwaukee, which oversees about $1 billion and doesn’t own Citigroup shares. "This company's too intertwined with the rest of the financial system to allow any further deterioration."

Citigroup spokesman Michael Hanretta declined to comment. On the call today with employees, Pandit said the company's capital and liquidity are strong.

... TARP Funds

Including a $25 billion capital injection from the U.S. Treasury under the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, the company has at least $50 billion of capital above the amount required by regulators to qualify as "well capitalized." Capital is the cushion banks must keep to absorb losses and protect depositors.

Deutsche Bank AG analyst Mike Mayo wrote in a report today that the bank's $25 billion of reserves, when combined with other resources, "should be enough to cover estimated cumulative losses of $50 billion on loans." Mayo rates the stock "hold" and has a $9 price target.

"With Citi being as big as they are, the government will make a special case and step in and find another reason to dispose of more TARP funds," said Matt McCormick, a portfolio manager and banking analyst at Bahl & Gaynor Investment Counsel in Cincinnati, which manages about $2.9 billion and doesn’t own Citigroup stock or debt.

... Deposits Are Safe

Pandit was appointed last December to succeed Charles O. "Chuck" Prince, who was ousted as mortgage-bond writedowns saddled the bank with a record fourth-quarter loss of almost $10 billion. Prince was the handpicked successor of former Chairman and CEO Sanford "Sandy" Weill, who built the company through a series of acquisitions over 17 years before stepping down in 2003.

Bischoff, 67, was Citigroup’s top executive in Europe until he was named chairman when Pandit became CEO.

Bank employees have been telling customers their deposits are safe, and so far corporate clients haven't moved their money elsewhere, said three people familiar with the matter who declined to be identified because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about the accounts.

Crittenden, 50, has told colleagues it would be unwise to make hasty decisions to dispose of good businesses to satisfy investor demands for a show of action, one person familiar with the matter said.

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