Citigroup Inc. posted a double-digit increase in first-quarter deposits as many of its large U.S competitors struggled to record substantial growth.
The New York company said its deposits rose 18% from a year earlier, to $738.5 billion at the end of the quarter. The increase was driven primarily by growth in its foreign businesses; its branch network, which is growing both organically and through acquisition here and abroad, also is playing a part.
Ganesh Rathnam, an analyst at Morningstar Inc., said last week in an interview that he was surprised by the numbers, particularly because Citi outpaced rivals that traditionally have put a larger emphasis on gathering deposits.
"I had to double-check to make sure I wasn't seeing things," Mr. Rathnam said. "Other banks will be extremely alarmed if Citigroup keeps growing deposits like they are."
Bank of America Corp. of Charlotte posted a 1.5% deposit increase, to $692.8 billion. JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s deposits rose 7.8%, to $630.2 billion; the New York company benefited from its October acquisition of Bank of New York Co. Inc.'s retail business.
Wells Fargo & Co. of San Francisco reported a 1% deposit increase, to $311.1 billion. Wachovia Corp.'s deposits rose 24%, to $408.1 billion, largely because the Charlotte company acquired Golden West Financial Corp. in October.
In a filing with regulators last week, Citi cited a general increase in "certificates of deposit, partly rate-sensitive money market products, and premium checking" accounts - all interest-bearing products - for most of its deposit rise.
But for all the pages of financial disclosure that the company provides, the numbers do not always paint a clear picture of its performance. Its balance sheet breaks out interest-bearing and no-interest deposits in domestic and foreign offices at the close of the quarter. Elsewhere, it discloses average deposit balances during the quarter for each of its business lines, but it does not say whether those deposits bear interest or where they were gathered.
The lion's share of Citi's deposits are foreign and bear interest, and growth in that category remained exceptional - it rose 22% from a year earlier, to $464.1 billion. Average deposits in the transaction services business rose 25%, to $213 billion. The business manages cash for corporate and institutional clients, including governments, trust companies, and broker-dealers.
Citi's retail banking businesses also contributed to the deposit increase. Average U.S. retail deposits rose 20%, to $119.2 billion. A direct electronic savings account has collected $12.9 billion of deposits since it was launched March 29, 2006.
Average foreign retail deposits rose 7%, to $154.2 billion. About half of that increase came from Citi's purchase of two Latin American businesses: the Dec. 13 purchase of Grupo Cuscatlan, which added $3.4 billion of deposits, and the March 5 acquisition of Grupo Financiero Uno, which added $1.5 billion.
The acquisition of foreign deposits has not slowed down this quarter. Last week Citi closed its deal to buy Egg Banking PLC, a London online financial services company, from Prudential PLC. The purchase adds about $11 billion of deposits to Citi's total, a spokeswoman said.
Citi would not say how much of the first-quarter deposit growth came from branches it has built over the last year. In the United States, it built 87 retail branches, raising its total to 993 as of March 31. During that time it also opened 336 foreign branches, raising its total to 2,983.
Analysts tend to focus on big-picture metrics like operating leverage at least partially because it is difficult to assess specific elements like the dynamics of deposit growth.
"I think people may devote more attention to it if they can figure out what's core deposits, and if the expansion of branches and offices in the U.S. and globally are paying off," said Roger Lister, the chief credit officer of DBRS Ltd. "Some of us certainly pay attention to it. It's just a little hard to figure out."
Morningstar's Mr. Rathnam said deposits are a window on traditional businesses that are less volatile than market-dependent businesses like investment banking.
"A bank's main engine is deposits," Mr. Rathnam said. "If you don't get deposits, you're not going to do very well as a bank."