Citi’s Pandit: ‘Turbulent Times’

Citigroup Inc. (C) CEO Vikram Pandit moved to perhaps instill some confidence in the company’s likely rattled employee base on Monday, and sent out an internal email highlighting the bank’s efforts thus far to weather the storm. It was a message to investors as much as to employees. According to Investment Dealers’ Digest, which first obtained a copy of the internal memo and published it on their Web site, Pandit acknowledged that “we are experiencing turbulent times in the financial markets,” but underscored the company’s efforts to “meaningfully contribute” towards building financial market stability. Part of that effort included participating in the group of ten banks that announced a $70 billion lending facility for key financial institutions looking to weather the storm; that facility was announced late Sunday, as HW reported. Pandit sought to ease frayed nerves over the company’s future; understandable given that Citi’s share had fallen to $15.37, off nearly 15 percent from Monday’s open. “Over the last year, Citi has managed critical priorities well–our capital and liquidity positions are strong, and we have tremendous capacity to make commitments to our clients,” he said in the internal memo. Part of the concern about Citi is clearly tied to the failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEH) early Monday morning; Citi is a major counterparty. The bank sought to clarify the bank’s inclusion in a list of creditors listed by Lehman in its bankruptcy filing, saying that the bank’s “role in this issue is administrative in nature and does not represent exposure for Citi to Lehman. Any assertions to the contrary are false.” Citibank N.A. is listed in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy filing as an indenture trustee for bond debt of approximately $138 billion under Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Senior Notes. The bank also was listed as having a $275 million bank line to Lehman at the time of the bankruptcy. Not surprisingly, Pandit asked employees to remain focused on the business at hand. “It is important that we maintain our unrelenting focus on the needs and concerns of our clients and shareholders,” Pandit said in the memo. “We are confident about the future despite a very challenging time.” Easy to say, but harder to do, especially when your colleagues at Lehman as walking out the front door with boxes full of their personal items. CFO Gary Crittenden asserted that Citi had “spent a tremendous amount of time and resources since the beginning of the year … planning for severe disruptions just like we are currently seeing in the markets.” He highlighted roughly $50 billion in capital raised in the past year, and pointed to a continued deleveraging of Citi’s balance sheet as evidence of progress. After rattling off some numbers for investors, however, even Crittenden was forced to hedge his own statement: “It is obviously unclear how the events of the last few days will play out in the financial markets and the potential impact that might have on our marks and financial performance for the current quarter.” If past experience thus far is any indicator, that impact will be anything but positive. Disclosure: The author held no relevant positions when this story was published; indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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