Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Citigroup Inc.'s announcement of job cuts Monday is not how deep they run but the fact that the company is willing to slash its foreign operations.
When Vikram Pandit, its chief executive, discussed a plan to cut 20% of the company's head count, including a new mandate to cut 35,000 additional jobs, he gave few details on where the latest cuts might occur, but he did cite credit issues in Brazil, India, and Mexico.
He also admitted to repeating a mistake from the company's past.
"Historically, we found out that raising deposits in Houston and investing them all in Houston was not a good idea. Similarly, raising all your deposits in the U.S. and investing them in Latin America was not a good idea," Mr. Pandit said, according to a transcript released by the company Monday. "This go around, we have found out the other way, raising deposits globally and putting too many to work in U.S. residential real estate was not a good idea."
Still Mr. Pandit continued to vigorously defend the company's universal bank model, which relies on a far-flung foreign presence. "A good bank takes deposits, augments that with wholesale funding, and then puts the total to work. The best banks have a diversified source of deposits and put them to work in a diversified way."
Added Mr. Pandit: "We at Citi can gather deposits in 109 countries … and put them to work globally in 109 countries."
A spokeswoman for the $2.05 trillion-asset company said that the cuts announced Monday would include previously announced divestitures in some of those 109 countries. About 18,000 job losses are tied to the anticipated sales of Citi's German bank and of the Citi Global Services unit, which are expected to close this quarter.
A source familiar with the cuts said this round would include "more of a tilt" toward international operations because of greater "layers of inefficiency" in those businesses. Divestitures are likely to include a number of smaller foreign units, such as project finance businesses, and would occur in coming quarters, the source said. Citi is likely to continue to look for jobs to cut after this current round is complete, the source said.
All told, the cuts should largely occur by mid-2009 and would be spread out across business lines and geography, paring the work force to 300,000 employees, the spokeswoman said. A source familiar with the cuts said a significant number are expected in Citi's investment banking operations.
In addition, Citi is wrapping up more than 20,000 job cuts announced earlier this year.
Citi also said it plans to cut costs by up to 19% compared to its total expense base for the previous four quarters, to $50 billion to $52 billion. The company did not say how much of this expense reduction would be tied to head-count reductions.
"We entered 2008 with more people, more businesses, and more assets than fit our strategy," Mr. Pandit said. "There is still a lot of rebalancing ahead of us."
Analysts said it was encouraging to see Citi putting greater focus on scaling back internationally and said the problem with its foreign units has not been a lack of revenues but rather enormous operating costs.
Jason Goldberg, an analyst at Barclays Capital, said that nothing outlined Monday was "mind-boggling or radical," though it is further evidence that Mr. Pandit is still striving for a "more nimble" company. And Mr. Goldberg and others said Citi's bid to show a large head-count reduction highlights a sense of urgency on the part of management. "They have to show, and now prove, that they're in control and that they can appropriately handle the things that are out of their control."
Frank Barkocy, the director of research at Mendon Capital Advisors, called the moves "an interim step" for Citi. "This was something that had to be done to break some of the logjam at the company," he said in an interview. "At least it gets them heading in the right direction."
Mr. Goldberg said it would make sense to see cuts in investment banking, though he could see room for cuts or divestitures in a number of foreign retail banking businesses, too. "International is a big part of the business, and we expect it to continue to be a big part," he said. "But there is a global slowdown, and they need to react."
The cuts and the hastily rescheduled employee meeting came after a turbulent week at Citi, amid reports that its chairman, Sir Win Bischoff, was under fire from the board of directors, and a new low for the company's share price, which fell below $10 on Nov. 12. Mr. Pandit had originally planned to meet with employees later this week but moved it up to Monday to address mounting speculation over the number of cuts planned, said a source familiar with the matter. Citi publicly endorsed Sir Win last week. On Monday, the company's share price fell 6.6%, to $8.89.