WASHINGTON - The Treasury plans to sell another 1.5 billion shares of its Citigroup Inc. common stock, a move that would cut the government's holdings of the bank's shares to a quarter of what it was during the height of the financial crisis.

The Treasury could begin selling the shares at any time after its Tuesday announcement but will halt sales Dec. 31 even if hasn't unloaded all 1.5 billion shares. The deadline is meant to allow for a blackout period ahead of Citigroup's next quarterly earnings release in early 2011.

Treasury's announcement confirms that the government won't be able to meet its original goal of selling all of its Citigroup holdings by the end of 2010. Even after selling the 1.5 billion shares announced Tuesday, Treasury still will hold another 2.1 billion Citi common shares.

"It's pretty clear to anybody that was tracking it that they didn't have a good chance of completing the sales by year end," said Linus Wilson, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette finance professor who has been closely monitoring Treasury's sale of Citi stock.

Treasury now expects to complete its sale of Citi common stock in early 2011.

The Treasury received 7.7 billion in Citigroup common shares - a 28% stake - in exchange for propping up the bank through the government's financial sector bailout. The Treasury has so far sold 4.1 billion Citigroup shares for gross proceeds of $16.4 billion.

The Treasury currently holds 3.6 billion Citigroup shares and would see its share of Citi common stock holdings fall to 7% under the plan announced Tuesday.

Treasury's announcement comes the day after Citigroup on Monday reported a third-quarter profit of $2.2 billion, a figure lifted by a slowdown in loan delinquencies and losses.

Shares of Citi stock were trading down 1% at $4.13 shortly after the market opened.

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