Citigroup (C) Continues to Struggle

Below is a second look at an article that I published back in November 2008. This lays bare the extent of the problems faced by Citigroup. I hope anyone interested in Citigroup finds this article helpful. We can only hope that the Citi situation doesn't go the way of CreditAnstalt as described in previous articles. -Touc

The term that is the basis of all discussions in elementary economic modeling, especially when comparing two factors, is ceteris paribus. Ceteris paribus means "with other things the same" and represents the best guess as to what is likely to occur provided all thing remain unchanged. Let us take an overly simplistic view of the situation with Citigroup's government rescue plan and determine the potential outcome ceteris paribus.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in an article by David Enrich, the federal government has agreed to absorb $277 billion of $306 billion of losses that Citigroup has identified as "troubled" assets. Additionally, the Treasury is adding $20 billion on top of the $25 billion recently injected into Citigroup as part of the TARP plan. Remember, the $277 billion is separate from the $700 billion bailout package. Again, this current approach with Citi is counter to the early arguments that there needs to be a comprehensive solution, not an individual approach, to the bailouts after the fall of Fannie, Freddie, Lehman, Merrill and WaMu which spawned the TARP plan to begin with.

Now, let's look at only the off-balance sheet portion of Citigroup. The off-balance sheet portion is called an asset by Citi but isn't included on the books. The off-balance sheet items are valued at $1.23 trillion. I don't know why Citi wouldn't include these items on their balance sheet but if the U.S. government is any indication then the off-balance sheet is probably more like liabilities instead of assets.

If the government is going to front Citi $277 billion (a whopping 40% of the total TARP package for only one company) then that would leave $953 billion remaining on the off-balance sheet portfolio. If we split the $953 billion in half and conservatively assume this portion is "troubled" then we have a figure equal to $476.5 billion. Remember when Merrill Lynch auctioned off $30 billion of CDOs or "troubled" assets back in July 2008? Here's what Bloomberg.com said of that auction on July 29, 2008:

In yesterday's statement, Merrill said it agreed to sell $30.6 billion of collateralized debt obligations -- the mortgage-related bonds that have caused most of the firm's losses -- for $6.7 billion. The buyer is an affiliate of Lone Star Funds, a Dallas-based investment manager.

At the time, Merrill was only able to get $6.7 billion, a loss of 78% or $0.22 cents from every dollar originally invested. Therefore, my assumption of a 50% loss for Citi isn't so far fetched.

Ceteris paribus, this leaves Citi with at least $476.5 billion in losses to write down at some point in the future. This assumes that the economy remains in a slight recession, that earnings are the same, that the dividend for this company has been all but eliminated, that there are no further losses in the housing market. All things being equal, Citi is in for hard times. However, if we take 78% of the entire $953 billion then we get a total loss of $743 billion. A sum exceeding the amount of the entire TARP program even after a $277 billion direct injection to Citi from the government.

Clearly our government under Bush/Obama has severely underestimated the extent of how much damage has been done to our financial system. Along with the lack of knowledge that has been demonstrated, the only policy reaction is to have a blank check approach to dealing with the problem. This is what I meant when I said that chaos will ensue when and if Bank of America falls below $14.00.

Previous articles on Citigroup

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