Citi's sell-off ushers in consolidation era

A Citibank Smith Barney bank branch in New York City.

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KAI RYSSDAL: The bargain stock of the day is an easy one to pick today. The single-letter ticker symbol C. Citigroup closed down 23 percent, under five bucks a share for what was once the biggest financial institution in this country.

The decision earlier this week to spin off its brokerage unit Smith Barney didn't help any. And Citi seems to be getting ready to put some of its other businesses up for sale as well. It's tantamount to a fire sale. All the more notable because size was Citi's claim to fame -- a one-stop financial supermarket, if you will.

But as is true with stocks themselves, for every seller there is a buyer.

And Marketplace's Steve Henn reports Citi's break-up might just lead to industry consolidation all over again.


STEVE HENN: Sandy Weill, who built Citi into a banking colossus, started with a vision. He hoped to combine stock brokers, bankers and insurance agents to offer every conceivable financial service under one roof. By the end of the '90s, it looked like Weill succeeded.

SANDY WEILL: Buying Travelers [Insurance Co.] and then buying Solomon Brothers, and then merging with Citicorp to really have a great, great global franchise.

Even as the financial crisis kicked off in the summer of 2007, Weill told Charlie Rose his vision still made sense.

WEILL: We had the most equity of any company in the financial business, operating in over a 100 countries -- a lot of them for nearly a hundred years.

Now most of that equity is gone, and Citi's storied history no longer matters.

WILLIAM SMITH: The financial supermarket model is in fact dead.

William Smith is a Citigroup shareholder. He called for breaking up the banking giant more than 2-1/2 years ago when it was trading at $50 a share. Now, with Citi selling for less than $5 a share, he's getting his wish.

SMITH: The model doesn't work.

Smith says if the financial crisis taught consumers anything it's that you don't want all your investments under one roof. But bank analyst Bert Ely says that dream lives on.

BERT ELY: I don't think the supermarket model dies with Citi, but the next iteration of it may look a lot different.

The new giants will have fewer businesses. But with banks selling so cheap, Stewart Plesser at Standard & Poors says the next era of financial consolidation has already begun.

Stewart Plesser: And it will likely continue in '09 as the stronger banks pick up some of the weaker banks.

But Plesser says Citi is an unlikely takeover target. It's simply too big for any other bank to digest.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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