Despite the perils of a mounting global recession and a taxpayer bailout impelled by the loss of investor confidence, a top Citigroup Inc. executive says the company has no plan to dramatically alter its strategy or relinquish international holdings to the point of substantially reducing its global breadth.
Though a sweeping cost-cutting effort under way could involve select foreign divestitures, Gary Crittenden, Citi's chief financial officer, said in an interview Tuesday that the New York company "remains very focused on growing outside the U.S. because, over time, that's where growth opportunities will be and that's where we have relative competitive advantage … . We don't focus on headlines; we focus as much as we can on the facts."
Though the Citi of 2012 will be leaner — it is in the midst of shedding 53,000 jobs and cutting up to $400 billion of costs — Mr. Crittenden said it will be no less global in scope than Citi is today.
The government intervention announced late Sunday night included a taxpayer-funded $20 billion capital injection and a rescue package that guarantees $306 billion of Citi assets mostly tied to the faltering mortgage markets. Several observers said the government's steps bought Citi time for a makeover — one driven either by acquisitions that would significantly boost its domestic deposits, giving it an inexpensive funding source to ride out the recession, or by breaking up the company, including sales of core U.S. business lines and foreign units.
Many observers called for the latter, given that Citi lost $20 billion during the past four quarters and most analysts expect it to continue operating in the red through at least the first quarter of 2009. Late Monday analyst David Trone of Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Caronia Waller wrote in a note that the government aid gives Citi "breathing room" but does not diminish its continuing problems. He predicted losses through the second quarter of next year. And CreditSights Inc. analysts, in a report Tuesday, noted that the government guarantee does not cover about $362 billion of vulnerable card and consumer loans.
Analysts also said that, since the $2.1 trillion-asset Citi lost its bid for Wachovia Corp. to Wells Fargo & Co. last month — a deal that would have tripled Citi's U.S. deposit base and put it on par with JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. — the company is more vulnerable to economic malaise than its peers. As a result, many observers said, shareholders of potential buyout targets probably have grown skeptical about Citi's long-term stock performance and could revolt against a deal.
"They missed that boat," Christopher Whalen, the managing director at Institutional Risk Analytics, said in an interview Monday.
"I think we actually had the boat on Wachovia, but it was taken from us illegally, so from our perspective, obviously, we very much wanted to do that transaction," Mr. Crittenden said. "It was a transaction that had good characteristics associated with it. The idea of those deposits in the southeastern United States was very attractive."
Mr. Crittenden said increasing deposits in the United States is not a necessity for Citi's long-term survival; however, though he declined to discuss any particular target, he said a leap in deposits, particularly on the East Coast or in California, remains appealing to the company. "If we had another opportunity that would be akin to the Wachovia opportunity … , that's probably something we'd look at seriously," he said. Federal authorities put no deal-making restrictions on Citi as part of the latest capital infusion, he said, and no change in top management is planned.
Citi is suing Wells for $60 billion in damages, alleging that the California company aided Wachovia in breaching a contract agreement to negotiate with no one but Citi. Wells denies any wrongdoing. The suit remains in pretrial motions, a Citi spokeswoman said.
Citi has no plan to break up the company, Mr. Crittenden said, and no plan to sell major U.S. units, including its credit card business.
Mr. Crittenden reiterated that global growth, including in emerging markets, remains Citi's principal objective. Though markets such as Brazil and India are descending into recession, portending higher credit losses for Citi this year and perhaps next, he said, these markets and others present more opportunity for long-term revenue growth than the United States.
"If you gave me the chance to have a franchise in California that had a lot of option ARMs associated with it versus our emerging-markets franchise, it would be a pretty easy decision for me that I would want our emerging-markets franchise," Mr. Crittenden said, referring to Wachovia and the reason it was forced to sell. Citi's international reach "really is unique and will grow rapidly over the next few years, and Citi really is the player in that market. … So we think that is a really strong part of what our future is going to be all about."
Citi's "universal model" does indeed have supporters from the outside — though they are perhaps less vocal — in addition to the government.
"Citi is who they are because they are global," said Roger Lister, the chief credit officer of the financial institutions group at DBRS Inc. "You take that away, you take away their advantages."