What U.S. share stake means for Citi

The Citibank Building in New York

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Citigroup announced this morning the government's agreed to become its single largest shareholder. The Treasury Department's going to convert up $25 billion of its current stash of preferred shares and turn them into common stock. That means Joe Taxpayer's stake in the banking giant will be around 36 percent. And it does not offer much assurance that this transaction with Citi will be Uncle Sam's last.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: When analysts determine the value of a company they look at its tangible common equity -- basically its cash and assets. Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group, says Citi's common equity has been shrinking fast.

Jamie Cox: Because their capital is being depleted by the writedowns that they're having to take on their mortgage-backed securities and all of their asset-backed securities. So what this does essentially is shore up their capital base to be able to give them time to sell off these assets.

And reduce the massive gap between what they have and what they owe. Gerard Cassidy directs bank equity research at RBC Capital Markets. He says the more cash and assets, or common equity, the bank has on hand, the easier it is to weather hard times.

Gerard Cassidy: So if you start to build up your common equity you are building up your ability to handle greater losses as we go forward.

There's a chance those losses could still be overwhelming. And common shareholders, AKA taxpayers, are the last to get their money back in the event of a liquidation. Cassidy doesn't think that's a likely scenario in Citi's case. Still, the government may not be done helping Citi out.

Cassidy: If you are in the camp that the economy is going to weaken considerably more then no, this is probably not the last time capital will have to be infused into Citi.

Cassidy says he is cautiously hopeful this could be the last time.

In New York I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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