BANKING

Citigroup splits after huge losses

US banking giant Citigroup has announced that it will split into two separate businesses in the face of huge losses. The company will become Citicorp and Citi Holdings, abandoning the "supermarket" model it has built over the years.

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AFP - US banking giant Citigroup abandoned its "supermarket" model Friday in the face of a deepening global financial crisis, announcing a split into two businesses as it retrenched in the face of massive losses.

The New York banking group reported a hefty 8.29 billion dollar loss in the fourth quarter. The loss per share was 1.72 dollars, sharply higher than most analysts' predictions of a 1.19 dollar loss.

Citi said it had 5.6 billion dollars in fourth-quarter revenues but the bottom line was under severe pressure, notably from 6.1 billion dollars for bad loans and 6.0 billion dollars for net loan loss reserve build.

The bank also took a 2.0 billion restructuring charge and 5.6 billion dollars in write-downs.

"We continued to make progress on our primary goal in 2008 -- which was to get fit," said Citi chief executive Vikram Pandit.

Citi said the US government had finalized the terms of its guarantee against possible large losses on an asset pool of 301 billion dollars, announced on November 23.

For the full year 2008, Citigroup posted a net loss of 18.72 billion dollars, or 3.88 dollars per share, better than market expectations of 3.24 dollars. Citi shed 52,000 jobs in a cost-cutting restructuring.

In a separate statement, Citigroup announced it would separate the company into two businesses -- Citicorp and Citi Holdings -- abandoning the sprawling financial "supermarket" model it had built over the years.

"Given the economic and market environment, we have decided to accelerate the implementation of our strategy to focus on our core businesses," Pandit said.

The bank said Citicorp would be a global bank operating in more than 100 countries, with assets estimated at 1.1 trillion dollars.

It would group Citigroup's investment bank, private bank, financial services, commercial bank and credit card businesses.

Citi Holdings will group the bank's "non-core businesses," including brokerage and retail asset management.

The bank acknowledged the legal, fiscal and regulatory complexity of the overhaul but said the realignment would begin immediately and the 2009 second-quarter results would be presented under the new organization.

"We are setting out a clear roadmap to restore profitability," Pandit said.

Briefing.com analyst Patrick O'Hare said the picture still looked bleak for the bank.

"Citigroup, which plans to split into two units now, may have eased concerns about a worst-case scenario for equity holders for the time being, but it didn't provide any basis for wanting to own the stock for anything other than a trade," O'Hare said.

Citigroup said it would put its 49 percent stake in its new brokerage joint venture with Morgan Stanley under Citi Holdings. The partners announced the deal to create Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Tuesday,the world's biggest retail brokerage with 1.7 trillion dollars in client assets and some 20,000 brokers.

Citi Holdings will also include the Japanese businesses Nikko Cordial Securities and Nikko Asset Management, insurer Primerica, consumer financing and a special asset pool insured by the US government.

Citigroup, which had been the world's biggest financial company but has been hammered by heavy losses in the financial crisis, has received a total of 45 billion dollars in capital injections from the US Treasury to shore up its finances.

Pandit pledged that the bank would speed up the use of the Treasury's rescue from its 700-billion-dollar Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

"We are committed to helping the financial markets recover as quickly as possible. To accelerate that recovery Citi is putting the TARP capital it has received to work to support the US economy and consumers -- expanding the flow of credit to US households and businesses responsibly and on competitive terms," he said.

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