Though calmed somewhat by a final-hour rally, panicked investors continued to maul Citigroup Inc.’s stock Friday as the company’s board met in New York to weigh the possibility of selling part or all of the financial behemoth after a week of mounting discontent among shareholders.
Citi’s shares tumbled more than 30% in intraday trading and closed down 20%, at a 15-year low of $3.77. The shares had traded as low as $3.05 at one point.
Friday’s decline came after a 26% drop Thursday and 23% on Wednesday. The aggregate plunge was the steepest percentage drop on record for Citi on three consecutive days.
“I think the momentous wave of negative sentiment against it is so large that its ability to survive is in serious question,” Joseph Morrissey, a bank-stock trader at Boenning & Scattergood Inc., said of Citi in an interview Friday.
He added that several large-cap banks were dragged down on concerns about Citi and broader worries that the economic recession will further batter the banking sector. “People just don’t want the large-cap stocks and are willing to flush them at any cost,” he said.
Wells Fargo & Co. in San Francisco lost 3.4%, JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York 3%, and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh 2.4%. All three stocks had traded far deeper in the red earlier in the day.
The KBW Bank Index eked out a 0.5% gain Friday, though it had been down as much as 10% in intraday trading.
Anthony Conroy, the head trader at Bank of New York Mellon Corp.’s BNY ConvergEx Group, said reports Friday afternoon that President-elect Obama would nominate New York Federal Reserve Bank President Timothy J. Geithner to be Treasury secretary eased pressure on financial stocks, as investors viewed the pick favorably.
The Dow Jones industrial average, which was essentially flat with an hour of trading left, shrugged off the downward pull of financials in the final hour and finished up 6.5% Friday, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 6.3%.
The markets closed without firm word from Citi on its plans, however, and speculation swirled that the company, which has lost $20 billion over four quarters, would consider a sale or plead with the Treasury Department for a second injection of capital in as many months to placate Wall Street and avoid a government takeover.
Citi declined interview requests Friday. A spokesman issued this statement via e-mail: “Citi has a very strong capital and liquidity position and a unique global franchise. We are focused on executing our strategy, including our targeted expense and legacy asset reductions, and we believe the benefits will be seen over time.”
The $2.1 trillion-asset New York company started the week against the backdrop of divesting foreign assets and shedding 53,000 jobs. Chief executive Vikram Pandit also touted the company’s firm capital base, and sources close to Citi said it was mulling opportunities to grow domestically via acquisitions, including a possible bid on the $14 billion-asset Chevy Chase Bank in Maryland. However, other banks are now reportedly eyeing that company. Chevy Chase declined to comment.
A source close to Citi said Monday that Mr. Pandit was “looking at everything that may be attractive.”
But by Wednesday, investors, worried that the company had no clear strategy — beyond cost cuts — to ward off another bruising string of losses in 2009, began dumping Citi stock en masse.
Mr. Pandit held a series of conference calls with senior managers Friday, trying to assure them that the company would not be broken up and could survive on its own.
Mike Mayo, a Deutsche Bank AG analyst, wrote in a note Friday that Citi has “$100 billion of cushion against losses” and that “there is fundamental value at Citigroup that justifies a $9 price target.” But any optimism about Citi’s fundamentals failed to gain it traction on the trading floor, Mr. Morrissey noted.