Monday, November 24, 2008
Update On Fate Of Citigroup
This is probably not a politically correct joke, well not really a joke as it actually did happened, but hey....loosen up. A private banker called up a client telling him that Citi was a great buy below $5. The client half-jokingly said, "What, you kidding, I'd never buy an Indian bank". I guess its not just Vikram Pandit but a huge layer of the bankers at Citi happen to be Indians - I told you it was not politically correct!
Anyway, some updates on the probable fate of Citigroup. The shorts are doing it to Citi, make no bones about it. Will Citi go bust? Very unlikely. The bank has $2 trillion worth of assets, the question mark is how much will have to be written down. Hence even below $20bn in market cap, Citi may not find buyers for the whole bank unless they come with Treasury backing and guarantees.
Citi has kind of been off the radar when Lehman and Bear Stearns were collapsing because of their strong deposit base, in particular from outside of the US. It has some $880bn in deposits, but the scare over the last few days probably would have seen at least one third of those deposits being pulled out. I doubt very much Citi can function without some kind of help over the next few days.
The interesting bit was that the company bought back $17.4bn in assets it could not offload under the SIV. If you were really in trouble, would you do that as a priority? Citi saw Alaweed upping his stake from 4% to 5%, that didn't help. Citi got a $25bn injection from TARP, that seems to be insufficient. The estimated further writedowns over the next 3 quarters could come up to another $50bn. Take that with a much reduced deposit base, and Citi would find it very hard to raise funds or have sufficient capital to do business. While HSBC or even Royal Bank of Canada would have the muscle to buy Citigroup now, none will try as they will not get any special treatment from the US.
For JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley to buy, they would probably only do it with guarantees from the Treasury. Following the hoopla over the deal with JP Morgan and Bear Stearns, I doubt the Treasury would want to take that path again.
A seizure by FDIC would be bad news generally as Citi would be broken up and sold in parts. A most likely scenario now would be for Treasury to become the majority shareholder of Citigroup by pumping in at least another $50bn in exchange for new shares. Taking a leaf out of UK's experience with Royal Bank of Scotland, that seems to work. Treasury could then slowly sell down its stake when Citi gets out of trouble a few years down the road.
As it is, Citi is a unique animal. Its reach is far and wide. If it was Bear Stearns or WaMu, nobody outside the US would bat an eyelid. But mention Citigroup, it trades and do business with almost every corner of the globe. The international pressure on Paulson and Bernanke to "save" Citi would be overwhelming. If that route is chosen (as I think is most likely), we should see it trading back at $10 minimum, thanks also to the short squeeze on the shorts. For the time being, that seems to be a realistic solution.
p/s photo: Nozomi Sasaki