A: With its traditional umbrella symbol recently replaced by a red arc over "Citi" in advertisements, the international financial-services giant is seeking a leaner, more aggressive image.
- Andrew Leckey
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IN THIS PACKAGE
- Hot streak illuminates utility sector's strength
- Reward cards promise perks, but beware of traps
- Private-equity wave may have troubling ripple effects
- It could be too risky to use equity for college
- The savings game
- The Leckey file
- Getting started
- Spending smart
- Can they do that?
- Taking stock
- Keeping eye on hedge funds
- The week ahead
- Citigroup Incorporated
- Earnings Forecasts
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There's still some uncertainty about whether Charles Prince, the former general counsel who became chief executive in 2003 and chairman in 2006, can effectively master this diverse, profitable empire assembled by his predecessor and close associate, Sanford Weill.
Citigroup shares (C) are down 1 percent this year, following a 15 percent rise last year, with investors wanting to know why results aren't as strong as those of some rivals. Shares had been flat in 2005 and 2004, after a 38 percent gain in 2003.
Earnings declined 11 percent in the first quarter due to a large restructuring charge and increase in credit reserves.
Feeling pressure to rein in expenses, Prince is cutting 17,000 jobs, or about 5 percent of its worldwide workforce, to save more than $4.5 billion a year by 2009. In another belt-tightening move, Citigroup's Smith Barney unit changed its compensation plan to cover business expenses only for its brokers with $250,000 in production.
Consensus rating on Citigroup stock is "buy," according to Thomson Financial, consisting of seven "strong buys," seven "buys" and eight "holds."
The consumer business has disappointed, with credit losses, mortgage delinquencies and loan-loss reserves rising. Credit cards and retail banking have performed weakly, though bank deposits increased 20 percent last year.
The volatile businesses of investment banking and trading remain strong. In the first quarter, Citigroup ranked No. 1 in stock and bond underwriting transactions, with volume of $202.3 billion.
It recently purchased Old Lane Partners LP, a hedge fund with $4.5 billion in assets. Meanwhile, the company shook up top management in its own private bank that caters to more than 26,000 ultrawealthy clients in 31 countries.
Citigroup earnings are expected to rise 5 percent this year, slightly less than the overall forecast for banks based in the Northeast. Next year's earnings are projected to increase 13 percent, versus 10 percent industrywide. The five-year annualized return of 10 percent is slightly above its peers.
With presence in more than 100 countries, Citigroup plans to add 11 branches in South Korea and 14 more branches in China by year-end. It is adding branches in India and looking at the possibility of buying a bank in Germany.
Q: What do you think of Fidelity Fund in my retirement account? -- V.L., via the Internet
A: This Fidelity Investments fund has been around since 1930, launched a few months after the 1929 stock market crash.
It traditionally has been a blue-chip, large-cap growth and value fund. Lately, however, it has tilted more toward growth, with nearly one-fifth of assets in technology. One of the Fidelity's cheapest actively managed funds, it has a low 0.56 percent annual expense ratio.
The problem is that, despite its pedigree, performance has been less than historic for some time.
The $7.4 billion Fidelity Fund (FFIDX) increased 15 percent in the last 12 months and had a three-year annualized return of 13 percent. Both results rank around the midpoint of large-growth and value funds.
"Fidelity Fund has done fairly well, but we don't recommend it because there are significantly better large-cap growth options at Fidelity," said Jim Lowell, editor of the Fidelity Investor newsletter. "We will have a `hold' on it until we see some change in management because, while portfolio manager John Avery has done a good job, he could do a better job."