Cocktails With A Contrarian Investor: Long Citigroup

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Earlier this week we ran into an old friend who has been trading financial stocks for several years. We were in a small bar a few steps down from street level. The wall paper was a deep red, the furniture included antique looking couches, and faux-gas lamps lit the place dimly. It was the sort of place a Victorian era vampire might feel comfortable sipping absinthe while he hunted his next victim.
“It’s not that you’re wrong on Citi,” our trader friend told us. “It’s that you’re right. But everyone agrees you’re right. This is a broken company.”
“But you’re buying it?” we asked.
“Of course. I wouldn’t give Chuck Prince more than a year,” he said, referring to the chief executive of the financial giant. “And whoever replaces him won’t have any loyalty to the structure. None of the top guys have the sort of stake in it that Chuck has to Sandy.”
Prior to becoming chief executive, Prince had worked as the bank’s top lawyer under former chief executive Sanford Weill. It was during this era that Weill had built the bank into a behemoth through mergers and acquisitions. Prince has vigorously resisted calls to fundamentally reform the bank by spinning off business. Several of the top executives at Citigroup have been recently hired from outside the bank and lack the personal ties to the Weill build-up that some feel have led to Prince’s resistance to change.
“The next boss is going to start spinning things off. None of this reduction through attrition business. He’ll make his mark by remaking the bank in a leaner, meaner image. Get out from under the shadow of Sandy. And then you’ll see the stock climb,” the trader continued. “I’m buying this thing now because I think once the rumors of Prince’s retirement get out, the stock is going to start to climb.”
He twirled the olive in the bottom of his empty martini glass and scanned the room. A trio of girls were sitting by the window. They were too far from where we sat at the bar for us to overhear their conversation. We doubted they were discussing the fate of banking chief executives.
He gestured to the barteneder for another round.
“Let’s go say hello,” he suggested. He nodded toward the girls. A smile came across his face. His bright eyes sparkled. For a brief moment we thought we saw fangs where his incisors should be. A trick of the light, no doubt.

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