Yesterday Citi sued Barclays over an indemnity that Barclays gave Citi during the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and while, yes, the lawsuit is boring in the way that only lawsuits over indemnities can be, I’m nonetheless going to tell you about it under the heading “laugh at Citi doing stupid stuff.” The stupid stuff here is roughly:
- Citi was the clearing bank for Lehman Brothers FX trades, with gross exposures in the tens of billions of dollars.1
- Lehman ran into some trouble in September 2008, as you may have heard.
- On September 9, 2008, one week before Lehman’s bankruptcy filing, Citi decided it might be a good idea to get some security for its Lehman FX clearing exposure, in the form of getting set-off rights against $2 billion that Lehman Brothers Holdings (the public parent company) had on deposit at Citi.
- On September 15, 2008, after Lehman Brothers Holdings had filed for bankruptcy, Citi decided that it might not be a good idea to continue extending credit to Lehman Brothers Inc. (the non-bankrupt broker-dealer subsidiary) and so terminated its FX clearing arrangement.
- Lehman Brothers Inc. begged Citi to reconsider, and Citi agreed to provide basically two more days of clearing (through September 17) in exchange for $1 billion of new collateral posted by Lehman.
- Lehman Brothers Inc. continued to not pay Citi amounts that it owed.
- So Citi again stopped clearing for Lehman.
- This time Barclays, which had agreed to purchase the Lehman U.S. broker-dealer operations, begged Citi to reconsider, and Citi agreed to provide basically two more days of clearing (through September 19) in exchange for $700mm in new collateral posted by Barclays.
- Lehman Brothers Inc. again continued to not pay Citi amounts that it owed, and was placed into SIPC liquidation on September 19.
- Citi again stopped clearing for Lehman, for real this time, and closed out its positions at a loss of something like $1,260mm.
- It set off $1bn of these losses against the collateral posted by Lehman.
- Then Barclays called Citi, in October 2008, and asked if it could have its $700mm of collateral back.
- Citi said yes!2 Read more »
Citi announced its quarter this morning and there are various ways to tell that it was good, of which “the stock was up” is probably the main one. A possibly less objective test is that, back in March, Mike Corbat told everyone how he would grade himself, if he was grading himself. As he put it today:
Last month, I presented three targets we aim to reach by the end of 2015. First is achieving an efficiency ratio in Citicorp in the mid 50% range. Second, we want to generate a return on Citigroup’s tangible common equity of over 10%. And third is reaching a return on Citigroup’s assets of between 90 and 110 basis points in a risk-balanced manner.
Today Citi announced $4.0 billion of net income (excluding CVA/DVA), or $1.29 per share, which I work out to around 82bps of ROA, 9.86% ROTCE, and a 55.6% Citicorp efficiency ratio.1 So … pretty good, all in all?
One oddity of Corbat’s three-part plan is that two of the parts sort of collapse into each other. Read more »
Back in the pre-Lehman days Citigroup owned a lot of things that, in hindsight, turned out to be awful. Everyone knows that now but various people didn’t know it then, including (1) the people who bought some of those awful things from Citi, (2) the people who bought stock in Citi while it hung on to the bulk of those awful things, (3) the people who bought bonds in Citi while it hung on to the bulk of those awful things, (4) the people who bought preferred stock in Citi … you get the idea. The world being as it is – full of lawyers1 – each of those groups of people is slowly making its separate peace with Citi. We’ve talked about some of them before, including a rather controversial $285mm SEC settlement on behalf of the awful-thing-buyers and a $590mm private settlement on behalf of the stock-buyers. Today brings the biggest settlement yet, $730mm on behalf of the bond- and preferred-stock and TRUPS-buyers, who lost billions when Citi defaulted on its bonds.
Hahahaha no I’m kidding, Citi never defaulted on its bonds. Here’s the Journal:
In the case settled Monday, plaintiffs alleged the New York company misled them about Citigroup’s possible exposure to losses on securities backed by home loans, understated its loss reserves and said some assets were of higher credit quality than they actually were. The pact covers 48 preferred-stock and bond deals between May 2006 and November 2008.
Those possible exposures became real exposures, and Citi incurred plenty of unpleasantness. But these bonds mostly didn’t. Read more »
It was a teary goodbye today, as Citigroup bade farewell to its internal hedge fund unit, Citi Capital Advisors, redubbed Napier Park Global Capital. And why wouldn’t parting be such sweet sorrow for the men and women who Citi literally gave the business away to, gratis? Read more »
Every once in a while I almost write “I don’t envy big bank CEOs,” and then I consider my own finances and the mood passes. But it does seem hard, no? The job is basically that you run around all day looking at horrible messes – even in good times, there are some horrible messes somewhere, and what is a CEO for if not to look at them and make decisive noises? – and then you get on earnings calls, or go on CNBC, or sign 10Ks under penalty of perjury, and say “everything is great.” I mean: you can say that some things aren’t great, if it’s really obvious that they’re not. If you lost money, GAAPwise, go ahead and say that; everyone already knows. But for the most part, you are in the business of inspiring enough confidence in people that they continue to fund you, and if you don’t persuade them that, on a forward-looking basis, things will be pretty good, then they won’t be.
Also, when you’re not in the business of convincing people to fund you, you’re in the business of convincing people to buy what you’re selling and sell what you’re buying, which further constrains you from saying “what we’re selling is dogshit.”1
Anyway I found a certain poignancy in Citi’s correspondence with the SEC over Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, which was released on Friday. Citi and Morgan Stanley had a joint venture in MSSB, and MS valued it at around $9bn, and Citi valued it at around $22bn, and at most one of them was right and, while the answer turned out to be “neither,” it was much closer to MS than C. Citi was quite wrong, and since this was eventually resolved by a willing seller (Citi) selling to a willing buyer (MS) at a valuation of $13.5bn, Citi had to admit its wrongness in the form of a $4.7 billion write-down, and the stock did this: Read more »
You can question some of the life choices that Tom Hayes, a/k/a Trader A, UBS’s Libor-manipulating-est Libor manipulator, has made, but this seems to me inarguable:
Citigroup executives wooed him in June 2009 at a swanky bar in Tokyo. As they showered him with praise, say people who were there, Mr. Hayes rarely spoke, instead letting his girlfriend, a lawyer, answer questions.
Shady traders: date lawyers! And let them do all the talking for you.
That detail is from this amazing Wall Street Journal article about Hayes. When we last discussed Hayes and his totally open and casual requests to people he’d just met to manipulate Libor for him, I asked “is this: (1) all of these people did not fully realize that they weren’t supposed to be doing what they were doing, (2) UBS’s culture was one of complete lawlessness and fuck-around-ery, or (3) both of those things are true and reinforce each other?,” and per the Journal the answer is fascinatingly (3).
I’ve occasionally said that Hayes made a career of Libor manipulating but that’s not entirely right. He started at RBS and, per the Journal‘s account,1 spent his time there mainly being smart and dressing “like a college student — with washed out jeans, a polo shirt and sometimes a threadbare sweater” rather than IMing people to ask them to fix Libor. (That, at RBS, seems to have come later.) Then he moved to UBS: Read more »
Back in October when Mike Corbat was dragged from bed in the middle of the night to take over the top job at Citigroup after Vikram Pandit’s ouster, he did a hastily assembled damage-control conference call while still wearing his footie pajamas. On this call CLSA analyst Mike Mayo surprised Corbat by asking him a softball interview question, namely: tell me how you want your tenure as CEO to be measured in five years. Corbat’s response – and here I’m quoting from memory – was “Wait, I’m the CEO? Crap. Let me get back to you on that.”
Corbat may have forgotten that promise, but Mayo did not, and he asked the question again yesterday – on Corbat’s first earnings call as Citi CEO – and got in reply maybe the single best sentence a bank CEO has ever said:1
Mike Mayo – CLSA
And then for Mike, I asked this question when you first got the CEO job. If in five years from now you were to look back at your performance, what would you want to see to show that you were successful?
Mike Corbat – CEO
I think probably going back to your first line of questioning, we’ve got to get to a point where we stop destroying our shareholders’ capital. I would say that would certainly be at the top of the list, that we run a smart and efficient business that’s good at its allocation of its resources around its customer and client segments, that it’s continued to have the ability to lead in a company those clients around the world, that it served the social purpose. There’s several things in there.
This seems a little unfair! Read more »
My simple model of How To Be A Bank goes something like (1) amass assets that are numerous and volatile enough to make your management rich and happy and (2) give as much money back to shareholders as you can, consistent with (1). If that were your model and you were building your capital plan what feelings would you feel about this:
The Federal Reserve on Friday kicked off the next round of its annual “stress test” for big banks, releasing instructions on how the process will work.
Included is a new opportunity for banks to alter their proposals to pay dividends or buyback shares before the Fed decides to approve or reject their overall capital plans. … Under the new instructions, banks will have “one opportunity to make a downward adjustment to their planned capital distributions from their initial submissions” before the final decision to accept or reject a bank’s capital plan is made, the Fed said.
I propose a strategy that goes like:
- take your best guess at how much capital you’ll be allowed to distribute, call it $X;
- submit a plan to distribute $2X;
This appears to be a reaction to the sad fate of Citigroup in the last stress test. Read more »
Citi today fired Mark Mahaney, its internet analyst, and was fined by Massachusetts securities regulators, for sending dumb emails to reporters. The Massachusetts consent order is here. Mahaney’s main misconduct1 is that on April 30 of this year a French reporter asked him about Google’s YouTube business:
- Do you think that YouTube has been above your Total Net Revenue estimate 2011 ($876M)
- Do you think that YouTube will be above your Total Net Revenue estimate 2012 ($1119m)
- Do you think that they are largely profitable?
And Mahaney replied “Yes Yes Yes.” This was problematic because:
The information that [Mahaney] gave to the French Reporter had not been previously published. [He] had published a research report on Google, Inc. on March 21, 2012 and did not publish another research report until his interview with “All Things Digital” on June 21, 2012.
Two thought experiments. First, Mark Mahaney’s job was to drum up institutional business by producing actionable estimates and opinions about the stocks he covered. One way to do this is to publish research reports. Google, it is fair to say, is an important stock that he covered. He did not publish any research reports on Google for three months this year. What do you think he was doing during that time? Your choices are: Read more »
The Times’s detailed story today on Citi’s deVikrafication is a fun read and adds a lot of information about Mike O’Neill’s coup and its aftermath, but I submit to you that if you found any of it surprising you need to pay more, or probably much less, attention to the conventions of corporate infighting. I pay a medium amount of attention, and the day the news came out I conjectured:
- the board was planning to fire Pandit for a while but made the final decision after the earnings release,
- then it fired him, though “fired” = more or less forced his resignation,
- and this was part of a play for more power by O’Neill, the non-executive chairman,
- and this would likely demoralize other executives because nice things are nicer than nasty ones and a cushy banking sinecure is nicer than Hobbesian war for P&L and efficiency.1
So that’s pretty much what the Times piece today reveals.2 I would pat myself on the back except, was anyone peddling an alternative explanation?3 Well, Citi, I guess, but come on. The notion that Vikram Pandit left Citi of his own initiative, the day after earnings, with no warning, is so absurd on its face that the fact that Citi and Pandit said that he didn’t doesn’t even qualify as a lie. The call on which O’Neill said “Vikram chose to submit his resignation and the board accepted it. Contrary to speculation, no strategic or regulatory or operating issue precipitated the resignation” so clearly meant “we fired the dude because we didn’t like him” that O’Neill shouted at Mike Mayo “Our statement is clear.”
It was! There is precisely one way to read it! That’s the kind of faint-praise statement you make if you fired someone because you didn’t like him but he wasn’t, like, cooking and eating security guards on company property. The statement where he actually chooses to resign – from an unlimited choice set as opposed to “resign or be fired” – looks very different. It comes on the earnings call, for one thing.
You can manufacture outrage about this in various ways. Henry Blodget and Fox Business think that Citi’s characterization of the ouster was fraudulent and/or is being investigated by the SEC; you can add salt to taste, but Blodget has some points here: Read more »
We talked a while back about how “corporate governance” is a thing that exists more or less orthogonal to the thing that is “running your corporation as though you were a group of competent humans,” as evidenced by the fact that Citi’s mangled and perhaps legally problematic semi-firing of Vikram Pandit has been celebrated as a paragon of good governance. I don’t really know what “corporate governance” is, if not that, but much of its semantic space is covered by:
- do your directors and CEO like each other? – [ ] Yes [ ] No
- do you have strong takeover defenses? – [ ] Yes [ ] No
Two “No” answers = good governance; two “Yes” answers = sketchy.1
You might if you wanted to attempt to quantify those things – which is more important, and how if at all does the good governance that they reflect translate into things like shareholders making money? I enjoyed this Lucian Bebchuk DealBook post on a paper he wrote about golden parachutes in part because it gets at that a bit. Golden parachutes are a weird takeover-y topic: CEO employment contracts that provide for big payouts upon acquisition look formally like takeover defenses, insofar as they cost an acquirer money, but they’re actually sort of an anti-takeover-defense. They encourage takeovers since they’re a sign to acquirers that the CEO is not going to make things difficult if he gets a bid.
Anyway Bebchuk and his coauthors look at some data and find: Read more »