Citigroup may soon get all the sleep it needs. Investors are growing increasingly concerned that the global financial behemoth could go the way of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. Shares of the company, which was once the world's largest bank, closed at $3.77 on Friday. The company's board members reportedly met on Friday and will continue to talk over the weekend to discuss the firm's options. There are a number of possible outcomes, not all of which conclude with the end of Citi. "Somehow they need to get the price of their stock up," says James Ellman, a hedge fund manager at Seacliff Capital. "If they don't they are in for a lot of big problems."
Here are the most likely scenarios, in no particular order, that could unfold for Citigroup and its shareholders in the next few days.
1. A Change in Management
Most analysts believe Citigroup can survive its current market woes, though probably not without some changes. In a report out on Friday, Deutsche Bank analyst Mike Mayo, who has been a long-time bear on Citi, says the company has adequate capital to survive. When you factor in the $25 billion Citi got from the Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program, Mayo estimates the bank has as much as $100 billion in cash cushion.
And Citi's lending business has actually performed relatively well in this environment. In the third quarter, the company said it had $5 billion in loans on which customers were no longer making payments. In all, Citigroup has set aside $24 billion for loan loss reserves. For most firms, that's a lot of IOUs to go bad. But for Citi it's peanuts. In fact, $24 billion is just under 3.5% of Citi's overall loan book of $718 billion. And that's not a bad charge-off rate during a time when sub-prime mortgage loans are defaulting in double-digit rates.
"The issue with Citi is the degree to which the downtrend in its stock price affects fundamental factors, as seen with other financial firms over the past few months," Mayo wrote in the report.
So to avoid the fate of Lehman or Bear, the firm's board may feel like it needs to do something to boost it's stock price. One option would be to boot chief executive Vikram Pandit. Some on Wall Street believe Pandit has not been quick enough to react to the problems of the firm and could still be in denial. On Friday, Pandit told top executives that he doesn't believe Citi needs to sell off parts of its business to raise capital. Investors don't seem to agree. The stock fell on the news.
Who could replace Pandit? Robert Rubin, the former Treasury Secretary and head of Goldman Sachs, could be one choice. He is currently a director and senior council at the firm. But Rubin has been at Citigroup for a number of years, and it's not clear he has been helpful so far in stopping the losses. What's more, with a Democrat headed back to the White House his eye may be on Pennsylvania Ave. and not Park Ave., where Citi's executive offices are located.
Another choice could be Larry Fink, the head of money management firm BlackRock. He is regularly on the top of short lists anytime a big Wall Street job opens up. And so far, he has kept his firm clear of the worst parts of the financial meltdown.