Citi

  • 24 Oct 2012 at 7:33 PM

Good Corporate Governance Apparently Does Some Good

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 »

There’s a thing called “corporate governance” which you might think means like “the practice of running a corporation in a good way instead of a bad way” but you would be wrong. You can tell because the consensus is that Citi has displayed good corporate governance by making a chaotic demoralizing mess of firing Vikram Pandit in disgrace and/or regretfully accepting his voluntary resignation and/or other. Here’s Felix Salmon:

The CEO’s job is to run the bank, to answer to the board, and to get fired if he doesn’t perform. Which is what seems to have happened with Pandit.

Meanwhile, further downtown, the exact opposite is happening. Where Citi’s powerful board acted decisively after yet another set of weak results, Goldman’s powerless board is simply sitting back and watching their bank report a much more solid set of earnings

[W]hile investors care about earnings first and foremost, they also want to know that they’ll ultimately receive those earnings, rather than just seeing them disappear into the pockets of management, or be wasted on silly acquisitions. Governance matters. And on that front, if on few others, Citi can credibly claim to be leagues ahead of Goldman.

I say unto you that one or the other of these statements can be true, but not both:

  • “Governance matters.”
  • “on that front, if on few others, Citi can credibly claim to be leagues ahead of Goldman.”

Read more »

  • 15 Oct 2012 at 2:10 PM
  • Banks

Citi Has An Excellent 88% Decrease In Profit

I don’t have much insight into Citi’s earnings but I do enjoy the reporting of them. When a car or Facebook company reports earnings you basically ask questions like “how many cars or Facebooks did it sell?” and “how much money did it make on each one?” and those questions are kind of answerable and their answers give you a sense of how you should feel in your heart about the company. When a bank – like, a bank bank – reports earnings you can ask “how many mortgages did it sell?” and “how much money did it make on each one?” and those answers will be useful to you too, though there will be murky liquidity and valuation overhangs that will reduce their usefulness.

If you asked those questions of Citi, you might or might not get answers that might or might not be useful, but you’d be hard pressed to translate them into the headlines on Citi’s earnings. Big banks are not primarily engines for selling products and collecting a margin on them; they are bundles of accounting decisions, and this is never more apparent than at earnings time. This is pretty far removed from economic activity in the world:

Citigroup Inc.’s third-quarter profit fell 88% as the bank took charges tied to the value of its debt and the sale of a stake in its brokerage joint venture …

Others chose to emphasize economic activity in the world, at the cost of, y’know, GAAP: Read more »

Being in certain rooms at certain times seems to be a good predictor of selling a book. Bin Laden’s bedroom on the night of his death is an obvious one, and various days in the Oval Office have or may soon have their chroniclers, though the world still awaits the unabridged memoirs of the guy who cleaned out Jeff Gundlach’s office at TCW. But the Treasury Department conference room where regulators imposed TARP on eight big banks seems to have been especially fecund; by my count Hank Paulson has already published his account, somebody in the room seems to have contributed to this account, and now Sheila Bair has written a book that includes hers, which was excerpted in Fortune today.

This is weird because – well, one, because a bunch of guys (and Sheila Bair) in suits discussing the terms of a preferred stock purchase in a conference room is not necessarily the first place you’d look for thrilling literature, but also, two, because the accounts are all pretty similar. Here’s Bair’s take on the bankers’ reaction to the TARP terms:

I watched Vikram Pandit scribbling numbers on the back of an envelope. “This is cheap capital,” he announced. I wondered what kind of calculations he needed to make to figure that out. Treasury was asking for only a 5% dividend. For Citi, of course, that was cheap; no private investor was likely to invest in Pandit’s bank. Kovacevich complained, rightfully, that his bank didn’t need $25 billion in capital. I was astonished when Hank shot back that his regulator might have something to say about whether Wells’ capital was adequate if he didn’t take the money. Dimon, always the grownup in the room, said that he didn’t need the money but understood it was important for system stability. Blankfein and Mack echoed his sentiments.

Coincidentally, Dimon is always the grownup in these accounts, too; what is new here is really Bair’s take as the head of the FDIC:1 Read more »

Citi settled a CDO case for $590 million today, and if you are following along at home you’ll note that that is more than 2x as much as it settled its last CDO case for. There are a number of reasons for that but a big one is: in this case, Citi is in trouble for buying the CDOs, whereas in the last one it was in trouble for selling them. You can’t win, of course, but you can minimize your losses, and the method is clear: next time you find yourself with billions of dollars of assets that you’ve got marked at par but that you’re pretty sure will quickly decay into a pool of oozing crap, you should sell them quickly and deceptively. You’ll get sued less.

Also you won’t lose billions of dollars on the actual CDOs, which is arguably better.

I kid I kid this is different and Citi will probably be whacked repeatedly and in creative ways by shareholders over the fraudulent selling of the CDOs – that $285mm it’s paying to the SEC is really just a down payment – so there really is no way to win (except to accurately mark your assets and disclose your exposure clearly and accurately but who would do that?). Like: CDO investors will sue over the fact that Citi sold them crappy CDOs. Citi shareholders will sue over the fact that Citi was going around selling crappy CDOs without disclosing in its 10Q “we are in the business of selling crappy CDOs.” The advanced move will be when people sue because Citi didn’t tell them that other people were going to sue it, which sounds very silly until you remember that that exact thing is happening to BofA right now. Read more »

So remember when Citi did that thing that was all the rage in 2007 where they constructed a synthetic CDO referencing mortgage-backed securities in order to facilitate their own prop bet against those MBS, but then maybe inadequately disclosed to investors that they were in fact naked short those MBS? And then they got sued by the SEC for fraud, and settled that case for $285mm, or tried to anyway*? Well the SEC also sued one Brian Stoker, the Citi VP who structured that deal, because it’s important for the SEC to pursue powerful individuals responsible for financial crisis wrongdoing and who could be more powerful than the vice president of Citigroup? And unlike Citi, Brian Stoker chose to roll the dice, and today he won big but with an asterisk:

A jury on Tuesday cleared a former Citigroup executive of wrongdoing connected to the bank’s sale of risky mortgage-related investments at the peak of the housing boom, dealing a blow to the government’s effort to hold Wall Street executives accountable for their conduct during the financial crisis.

In addition to handing up its verdict, the federal jury also issued an unusual statement addressed to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the government agency that brought the civil case.

“This verdict should not deter the S.E.C. from investigating the financial industry and current regulations and modify existing regulations as necessary,” said the statement, which was read aloud in the courtroom by Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who presided over the trial.

Thanks jury! Bringing lawsuits about mortgage CDO marketing practices has been the major focus of the SEC’s response to the financial crisis,** and this was the first time that approach was tested in court, and the SEC’s lawyers spent building the case only to see a jury shoot them down in two days, and they have no courtroom victory or precedent to show for their work, but they won the one thing that is truly important in this vale of tears: an encouraging note from a group of anonymous strangers. Read more »

Morgan Stanley has announced that it will be buying 14% of its Morgan Stanley Smith Barney joint venture from Citi in a sort of glacially negotiated way. MS currently owns 51% of MSSB (plus $5.5bn of preferred interests), and Citi owns the other 49% (plus $2bn of preferred). You can read how they’re going to figure out the price here. Basically they each hire an advisor to value MSSB like a public company, and then get together and see how close they are. If they’re within 10% of each other, they average their prices; if not, they hire a third advisor to figure out who got closer to the right answer. Don’t get too excited about pitching to be one of those advisors, though, at least not in the first round:

Morgan Stanley and Citigroup each will engage one investment bank or financial advisory firm of national standing and with experience in the valuation of securities of financial services companies (an “Appraiser”) for purposes of estimating FMV. All fees and disbursements of the first two Appraisers shall be the responsibility of the party that engaged such Appraiser. Either or both of the first two Appraisers may be an affiliate of the party engaging such Appraiser, and Morgan Stanley has engaged Morgan Stanley Investment Banking as its Appraiser.

MSSB’s net income was about $300mm last year*, and recent Morgan Stanley Investment Banking valuation precedents suggest about a 100x P/E, so I’ll go ahead and predict we’ll see a $30bn-ish valuation from them, no? (Too easy? Actually, ha, it’s not that wildly off; press reports suggest a $15bn bid from MS and a $23bn offer from Citi.) Here’s how they’ll do their math: Read more »