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Citigroup earnings hit by litigation charges

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Citigroup Inc, the third-biggest bank by assets, reported a profit increase that was less than analysts estimated as litigation costs rose and benefits from releasing loan-loss reserves declined. Net income climbed 25 per cent to $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, or 38 cents a share, from $956 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based lender said today. adjusted for one-time items including restructuring costs and a mortgage settlement were about 76 cents a share.

Twenty-one analysts surveyed by Bloomberg estimated 96 cents on average.

Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat, 52, took over in October and last month announced plans to eliminate about 11,000 employees and pull back from some emerging markets, undoing part of the expansion strategy of his predecessor, Vikram Pandit. Litigation costs included $305 million from a settlement between US banks and federal regulators, who were probing claims that lenders improperly seized homes.

“New management won’t mind sacrificing a little earnings in the fourth quarter to help make 2013 earnings goals easier to hit,” said Marty Mosby, an analyst in Memphis, Tennessee, with Guggenheim Securities LLC. “They really aren’t going to be held accountable for what happens in the fourth quarter.”

Citigroup dropped 2.7 per cent, the biggest intraday decline since December 21, to $41.30 at 10:49 am in New York. The drop was the second-largest on the 24-company KBW Bank Index, behind Bank of America Corp.

Legal costs
Legal costs at the Citicorp division, which contains the consumer-banking and trading units, more than tripled to $735 million, the bank said. While some of the increase was related to the federal foreclosure settlement, Chief Financial Officer told journalists that most was related to “a variety of issues” at the US consumer bank.

“It’s tied to the US consumer business and beyond that I don’t think there’s much more to say at this point,” Gerspach said. “There is a series of items. I don’t think they’re unique to us.”

Corbat oversaw a $142 million release from the reserve for loan losses, compared with $1.47 billion a year earlier. Richard Staite, an analyst in London with Atlantic Equities LLP, had predicted a release that was about three times bigger.

Reserve release
A reserve release improves net income as the bank reduces the amount of losses it forecasts on future soured loans. The biggest U.S. lenders have boosted earnings this way as credit quality improved after the financial crisis. Citigroup’s benefit was the firm’s smallest since 2010, according to a financial supplement.

Citigroup has repeatedly “trashed the fourth quarter,” said Charles Peabody, an analyst with Portales Partners LLC in New York. “One has to wonder if the first three quarters of the year are truly reflective of their core earnings power.”

Citigroup gained 21 per cent in the quarter in New York trading, the second-best performance after Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America on the KBW Bank Index. The stock climbed 50 percent in 2012, its biggest increase since 1999.

The shares have advanced 16 per cent since Citigroup directors installed Corbat as CEO in October to replace Pandit. The board concluded that Pandit had mismanaged the firm’s operations, including his failure to get Federal Reserve approval to increase dividends or introduce share buybacks, a person familiar with the matter said at the time.

Forese, Medina-Mora
Corbat’s plans to overhaul the bank’s operations included the appointment of Jamie Forese and Manuel Medina-Mora as co- presidents. Forese, 49, is now in charge of all institutional businesses, including trading and investment banking, while Medina-Mora, 62, continues to run consumer banking.

Medina-Mora’s consumer bank posted a $1.76 billion profit for the quarter as expenses increased 6 percent, including the higher legal costs. The figure missed the estimate of David Trone, an analyst at JMP Securities LLC in New York, who predicted $2.04 billion.

Profit at the North America consumer bank gained 6 per cent to $1 billion while net income at the Latin American unit rose 9 percent to $401 million. Asian consumer banking profit slid 3 percent to $397 million as revenue fell while expenses rose.

Corbat plans to fire 6,200 workers from the consumer bank and pull back or sell the division’s operations in Pakistan, Paraguay, Romania, Turkey and Uruguay, according to a December statement.

Trading rebound
Forese oversaw a rebound in trading and underwriting revenue as investors sought out some riskier assets with greater potential returns during the quarter. Still, revenue at some of the businesses fell short of analysts’ forecasts.

Citigroup’s revenue from trading fixed-income products increased 58 per cent excluding accounting adjustments to $2.71 billion from a year earlier. That was less than the $3.12 billion predicted by JMP’s Trone.

The fourth-quarter result showed “lacklustre fundamentals,” Trone wrote in a note to clients. “Even after taking out negative items, Citi struggled to deliver much profit.”

The equities-trading business, overseen from London by Derek Bandeen, almost doubled revenue from a year earlier to $455 million. Moshe Orenbuch, an analyst in New York with Credit Suisse Group AG, had estimated $490 million.

Junk bonds
Citigroup was the top underwriter in the quarter of junk bonds, which are rated below BBB- by Standard & Poor’s. The bank overtook New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. to take the top spot as companies sold almost $130 billion of the risky debts, more than triple the amount sold in the last quarter of 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Firms sold more junk bonds in 2012 than they have since at least 1999, the data show.

The bond-underwriting division, overseen by Tyler Dickson, also kept its position as the third-biggest underwriter of US investment-grade debt as issuance swelled 53 per cent to $227 billion, the data show. While the firm slid to fifth from fourth among emerging-market bond underwriters, Citigroup increased its share of that market as debt sales jumped to $356.1 billion from $251.2 billion a year earlier.

“You had a record issuance of debt, particularly high- yield and investment-grade debt,” said Portales’s Peabody, who has an underperform rating on Citigroup shares. “A lot of that debt was international companies and that’s where Citi has a relative advantage.”

JPMorgan, the biggest US bank, posted net income of $5.69 billion yesterday on gains from the mortgage business. Bank of America, the second-largest lender, reported a $732 million profit earlier today.

Wells Fargo & Co, No. 4 in the US, reported $5.09 billion in profit for the period as lending increased, the San Francisco-based company said last week.

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