Sunday, February 22, 2009

WSJ: U.S. Eyes Large Stake in Citigroup (C)

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It's Sunday night in America so you know your government is hard at work putting our grand children's money to work. (just had a flashback to 2008) Our "investments" are continuing to hit paydirt left and right [Dec 6, 2008: We're Down 33% in 1 Month in "Our" Investment]

It really is bemusing how we are taking incremental stakes to nationalization - it is such a "bad" word that we just keep throwing more money, after more money and say "hey it's a private entity!" - the market caps for Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C) are now lower than the amount of money which the taxpayer infused (and are backstopping) into the firms. Just remember - we're not Japan. We're better than that - no zombies here.

Ironically just two weekends ago we were "saved" by He whom walks on water who was going to announce how he would save the financial system. Or so "the market" in all it's wisdom was telling us by a 5% move in 2 days ahead of Timmy's Magic Plan [Jan 27, 2009: We're Saved! Version 21,287] How quickly things turn - once again showing you "the market" is not all knowing.

But we continue the charade...
  • Citigroup Inc. is in talks with federal officials that could result in the U.S. government substantially expanding its ownership of the struggling bank, according to people familiar with the situation. While the discussions could fall apart, the government could wind up holding as much as 40% of Citigroup's common stock. Bank executives hope the stake will be closer to 25%, these people said.
  • Any such move would give federal officials far greater influence over one of the world's largest financial institutions. Citigroup has proposed the plan to its regulators. The Obama administration hasn't indicated if it supports the plan, according to people with knowledge of the talks.
  • When federal officials began pumping capital into U.S. banks last October, few experts would have predicted that the government would soon be wrestling with the possibility of taking voting control of large financial institutions.
  • The talks reflect a growing fear that Citigroup and other big U.S. banks could be overwhelmed by losses amid the recession and housing crisis. Last week, Citigroup's share price fell below $2 to an 18-year low. Bank executives increasingly believe that the government needs to take a larger ownership stake in the institution to stop the slide.
  • Under the scenario being considered, a substantial chunk of the $45 billion in preferred shares held by the government would convert into common stock, people familiar with the matter said. The government obtained those shares, equivalent to a 7.8% stake, in return for pumping capital into Citigroup.
  • There's no universal agreement on what constitutes nationalization of a bank. In the U.K., the government already owns 43% of Lloyds Banking Group PLC, and last week it moved to increase its ownership of Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC to 70% from 58%. Those two banks have been classified as "public-sector entities," and as much as £1.5 trillion ($2.136 trillion) of their liabilities have been moved over to the country's balance sheet.
  • If the deal gets nailed down, it will be Washington's third effort to aid Citigroup since last fall. In October, the Treasury Department put a total of $125 billion into eight giant financial institutions, including $25 billion to Citigroup, in exchange for preferred shares and warrants to buy stock. Then, shortly before Thanksgiving, the government agreed to infuse another $20 billion into Citigroup as its stock tumbled. It also agreed to protect the banking company against most losses on a $301 billion pool of assets.
I look forward to having this conversation with Bank of America oh... on a Sunday soon enough.
  • Bank of America Corp. said Sunday that it isn't discussing a larger ownership stake for the government. "There are no talks right now over that issue," said Bank of America spokesman Robert Stickler. "We see no reason to do that. We believe the goal of public policy should be to attract private capital into the bank, not to discourage it."
I'll mark your words Mr. Stickler.

[Feb 20, 2009: Nationalization of Citigroup and Bank of America Beckons]
[Feb 5, 2009: Bank of America Below $4]
[Jan 15, 2009: And Then There Was One]
[Jan 14, 2009: Bank of America Sucking up More Tax Dollars]
[Dec 1, 2008: Hello, I need your Tax Dollars]
[Nov 26, 2008: After Citigroup is Bank of America Next?]
[Nov 26, 2008: US Government Now on Hook for $8 Trillion+]
[Nov 24, 2008: Details of the Citigroup Bailout]


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