Citigroup shares drop, pressure on Pandit

Business Materials 14 November 2008 05:38 (UTC +04:00)

Citigroup Inc shares fell to their lowest level in 13 years on Thursday, raising pressure on Chief Executive Vikram Pandit and the bank's board to improve performance even as the global economy deteriorates, Reuters reported.

A report in the Wall Street Journal said the bank's board of directors was dissatisfied with Citigroup's performance, and was thinking of replacing Sir Win Bischoff as chairman. In a rare statement, the board said the report was "completely erroneous."

But meanwhile, the bank's shares dropped 2 percent to $9.45 on Thursday, making Citigroup one of only 22 stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500 index to decline. Citigroup's shares have fallen 68 percent this year.

Citigroup is hurting now. Like other major U.S. banks, it has recorded billions of dollars of write-downs on securities linked to mortgages, and is expected to face significant losses from areas such as domestic credit card loans and auto loans.

But as other major economies show signs of slowing, Citigroup's global footprint could result in real pain overseas as well, analysts said.

"While people once thought Citigroup was somewhat insulated from U.S. shocks because of its global exposure, it now has vulnerability because of that same global exposure," said Marshall Front, president of Front Barnett Associates LLC in Chicago. "What was once viewed a positive is now a negative."

But the international exposure is not a negative to Pandit, who has repeatedly touted Citi's global universal bank model. He bought 750,000 common shares on Thursday, and 100,000 preferred shares, according to a person familiar with the matter. Pandit and three other senior executives bought a combined 1.3 million common shares, the person said.

And the board evidently still has faith in Pandit, who became chief executive of Citigroup in December 2007. On CNBC on Thursday, Citigroup board member Richard Parsons said the bank has a "terrific management team." Parsons is also chairman of Time Warner Inc (TWX.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and an adviser to Barack Obama.

Some analysts are nevertheless pessimistic.

"I don't see Citi making any money over the course of the next couple of years," said Meredith Whitney, the Oppenheimer & Co analyst who a year ago anticipated Citigroup's need for new capital and a dividend cut.

"They will have capital pressures from losing money," she continued, speaking at the Reuters Global Finance Summit earlier this week. "They will have capital pressures from resizing the businesses. What Citi and others are going to continue to do is sell assets to raise capital. And we are in a material asset deflationary environment. So that's equally dilutive."