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Citigroup CEO Finally Flexes Muscles

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Bank to overhaul balance sheet.

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For the last several months Citigroup (C) has been on the defensive - big time. But on Friday the well-known investment bank appeared to finally go on the offensive, which was a nice change. CEO Vikram Pandit and crew outlined a new plan meant to shore up the company's balance sheet. Pandit wants to dump what professor Andrew Jeffery calls the bank's dead weight, unloading about $400 billion or so in non-core type assets over the next three years.

Regarding divestitures, Bloomberg quoted Pandit as saying, ``There will be more.'' Pandit indicated that he would offload things such as "real estate holdings and collateralized debt obligations, such as bonds backed by pools of subprime mortgages." The hope is to jettison about $200 billion in loans and securities as a means of boosting capital.

Sounds great, right?

It's a bold move to be sure, but there are some issues. First, this action may help stop the bleeding, or at least lesson the prospect for future blood loss, but it's a three-year plan and analysts and investors, let's face it, want instant gratification. In other words, three years is a long time to wait.

Another concern is how employees will react. Given the asset sales and cuts that are likely to take place, coupled with the sense there aren't going to be any sacred cows, there's a concern the company might start to see some high-profile defections. Brain drain isn't exactly what Citi needs right now.

Another worry is that additional sales and cuts -- above and beyond those announced -- may still be needed, none of which provides a clear earnings picture. Not to mention that Pandit and crew can sell and cut all they want, but it doesn't mean that the banking business will rebound.

Oh, and think about it for a minute: If the whole world essentially knows that Citi's in the process of unloading billions in assets, there's a valid concern it won't be able to fetch top dollar. Plus, in this market economy, who knows how many firms are even going to line up to rummage through Citi's stuff?

To its credit, Citi did indicate that it thinks it will be able to show annual revenue growth of about 9% or so, which isn't too shabby given its size. Plus, if Pandit can trim the fat in a timely manner, there's a feeling that growth could even perk up from there.

Long story short, it's good to see Pandit do something aggressive. But at this point its likely that investors and the analyst community will continue to take a wait-and-see approach with regard to the stock, particularly since there's little evidence to suggest the bloodletting's over.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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