Citigroup sinks to 10-year low, Goldman urges short sale

BANGALORE (Reuters) - Citigroup Inc shares fell to their lowest level in nearly a decade after a Goldman Sachs & Co analyst said investors should sell the largest U.S. bank’s stock short as losses mount from troubled debt.

In morning trading, the shares were down $1.03, or 5.5 percent, at $17.82 on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were among the biggest drags on the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500, which both fell more than 1 percent.

They also touched their lowest level since October 1998, the month that Sanford “Sandy” Weill merged his Travelers Group with Citicorp to create Citigroup.

William Tanona, the Goldman analyst, added Citigroup to Goldman’s “Americas conviction sell” list and cut his price target on the stock to $16 from $20.

He recommended a “paired” trade in which investors sell Citigroup shares short, betting on a decline, and buy Morgan Stanley shares.

The analyst said Citigroup might take $8.9 billion of write-downs for the April-to-June period, leading to its third straight quarterly loss. He also said the bank might need to cut its quarterly dividend for a second time this year, after lowering it 41 percent to 32 cents per share in January.

Tanona’s forecast suggests deeper problems for Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit, who is trying to turn the bank around after nearly $15 billion of losses in the last two quarters, and more than $46 billion of credit losses and write-downs since the middle of 2007.

“We see multiple headwinds for Citigroup including additional write-downs, higher consumer provisions as a result of rapidly deteriorating consumer credit trends, and the potential for additional capital raises, dividend cuts, or asset sales,” the analyst wrote.

Pandit became chief executive in December, replacing Charles Prince, who resigned under pressure the previous month. Weill had hand-picked Prince as his replacement when he gave up the top job in 2003.

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Last week, Chief Financial Officer Gary Crittenden said on a Deutsche Bank conference call that Citigroup could take substantial write-downs this quarter.


Tanona said Citigroup might write off $7.1 billion related to collateralized debt obligations and associated hedges related to monoline insurers, $1.2 billion for other asset classes and $600 million for structured note liabilities.

He now expects Citigroup to lose 75 cents a share this quarter, compared with his earlier forecast of a profit of 25 cents. He also expects a full-year loss of $1.20 a share, compared with his prior view for a profit of 30 cents.

As of May, Citigroup had raised some $42 billion since last fall, including injections from sovereign wealth funds, data compiled by Reuters News show.

Tanona said the bank may now need to issue common stock or sell assets to raise capital, because regulators may forbid it from issuing more preferred or convertible securities. He also said halving the dividend could preserve $3.5 billion a year.

“Given the firm’s current level of earnings power, we do not believe the dividend is safe,” Tanona wrote.

A Citigroup spokeswoman declined to comment.

Pedestrians walk past a Citibank branch in San Francisco, June 23, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

On June 24, Merrill Lynch analyst Guy Moszkowski projected $8 billion of write-downs for Citigroup.

Tanona also downgraded the U.S. brokerage sector to “neutral” from “attractive,” saying deteriorating fundamentals will likely prolong any recovery from the credit crunch.

He projected a $4.2 billion second-quarter write-down for Merrill Lynch & Co, leading to a quarterly loss for the largest U.S. brokerage.

“We expect write-downs for Citigroup and Merrill to outpace what we saw from Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers Holdings recently, due to Citigroup’s and Merrill’s large exposures to ABS CDOs (asset-backed security CDOs) and associated hedges with the monolines,” Tanona wrote.

Brad Hintz, a Sanford C. Bernstein & Co analyst, on Thursday projected a $3.5 billion second-quarter write-down for Merrill. Banc of America Securities analyst Michael Hecht made the same forecast earlier this month.

On June 17, Goldman analysts led by Richard Ramsden said U.S. banks may need $65 billion more capital to cope with a global credit crisis that will not peak until 2009.

Additional reporting by Tenzin Pema in Bangalore; Editing by Vinu Pilakkott