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VOL. 124 | NO. 245 | Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Citigroup to Repay $20 Billion in Bailout Money

STEPHEN BERNARD | AP Business Writer

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NEW YORK (AP) - Citigroup reported Monday it is repaying $20 billion in public bailout money, freeing the banking giant from the close scrutiny and pay restrictions that came with the rescue program. The government will also sell its stake in the company.

Paying back the government gives Citigroup's standing an immediate boost, but it comes at a heavy cost. Raising the new capital will significantly dilute current shareholders' stake in the company, and Citi's shares fell in early trading as a result.

Citigroup Inc. was among the hardest hit by the credit crisis and rising loan defaults, and received one of the largest bailouts of any bank during the financial crisis. The government gave Citi $45 billion in loans and agreed to protect losses on nearly $300 billion in risky investments.

By approving the repayment, the government is saying Citi is on strong enough financial footing to stand on its own. It's a far cry from the situation at the beginning of the year, when some analysts were saying Citi could fail completely and be taken over by the government.

The news comes just days after Bank of America Corp. said it would repay the $45 billion in bailout money it had received. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. is now the last major U.S. bank that has yet to pay back its bailout money. Most other major commercial and investment banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have already repaid the government.

Citi is selling $20.5 billion in stock and debt to repay the government. It only has to pay back $20 billion because the remaining $25 billion was converted into a 34 percent ownership stake in the bank earlier this year. The government plans to sell that entire stake – which has risen in value by more than 20 percent – during the next year. The loss-sharing agreement will also end as part of the plan.

The U.S. Treasury Department is in line to earn about $13 billion in profit on its support for Citigroup depending on how much it makes selling the stock, said a Treasury official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of President Barack Obama's meeting with bank officials.

Citigroup's exit from the government's rescue program is a significant milepost on the financial industry's road to recovery. Even though it's good news for Citigroup and other banks, word of Citi's repayment sent its shares down 19 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $3.77 as investors reacted to the amount of dilution that current shareholders will incur.

While the government believes in the strength of Citi, the bank is still facing losses and trying to streamline operations to maintain profitability that has been tenuous throughout the year, even as other big banks recovered.

"It's early still given what we're seeing in credit trends at the bank and at some of their competitors to say the coast is clear, but I think they are growing more comfortable and that we can expect that 2011 is going to be a better year," said Jason O'Donnell, a senior research analyst at Boenning & Scattergood Inc.

The repayment by Citi comes as top executives from some of the nation's biggest banks meet Monday with Obama. The president is asking the executives to back his efforts to tighten financial regulations, designed to rein in the risky behavior that led to the credit crisis. Obama could face difficulty though, after describing bankers as "fat cats" in a "60 Minutes" interview broadcast Sunday.

Citigroup received the bailout as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The program was launched late last year to help ailing banks manage through the peak of the credit crisis.

Nearly 700 banks of all sizes participated in the program. Most of the largest banks quickly paid back the money they received because it carried restrictions such as caps on executive pay and dividends. Many banks have bristled at the strict government oversight.

Wells Fargo, which got $25 billion in rescue funds, is now the last large national bank that hasn't paid back the government. Like Citi, Wells Fargo was one of the first eight banks to participate in the bailout program.

TARP recipients have so far paid back $116 billion. That's out of a total of $453 billion that the government extended to banks, insurers, automakers and other companies under the program.

While the TARP repayment reduces the tight scrutiny of regulators, it also now leaves the bank more exposed to potential losses. The end of the loss-sharing agreement on about $300 billion of risky investments could hinder Citigroup's continuing efforts to maintain profitability.

The Treasury official said Citigroup never had to tap the loss-sharing agreement, and the government has taken no losses on the Citi investment.

Citigroup has been among the hardest hit banks by the credit crisis and continues to see consumer loan defaults pile up. Loan losses cost the bank $8 billion during the third quarter.

It is widely expected consumers will continue to miss payments at rapid rates in 2010 because the job market remains weak and wages are not going up. Loan defaults are likely to remain high industrywide.

Citigroup reported a $101 million profit during the third quarter before accounting for $288 million in preferred stock dividends and the debt exchange offer that gave the government its stake in the bank. Including those costs, Citi lost $3.24 billion during the quarter ended Sept. 30.

Paying back TARP money will cut dividend costs by about $1.7 billion annually, the bank said. Citi will take an $8 billion pretax loss to pay back the bailout money.

Citi is issuing $20.5 billion in capital and debt to help repay its obligations, including the $17 billion of common stock. The bank also said it will award $1.7 billion in stock equivalents to employees instead of cash they would have ordinarily received as part of their compensation.

Citi had 22.86 billion shares outstanding as of Sept. 30. Based on Friday's closing price, Citi would need to sell about 4.3 billion shares to raise $17 billion. That would dilute current shareholders stake in the company by about 19 percent.

___

AP Business Writer Ieva M. Augstums in Charlotte, North Carolina, and AP Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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