Citigroup's first-quarter results suggest tough year ahead

Fri Apr 15, 2016 6:12pm EDT
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By David Henry and Sweta Singh

(Reuters) - Citigroup Inc (C.N: Quote) reported a sharp decline in quarterly profit on Friday, hit by weak revenue, costs related to shrinking businesses, and loans to energy companies that are going bad.

On conference calls, executives suggested the pain might not be over by saying the bank is unlikely to meet a key performance target, and that it could $400 million more in credit costs this year than previously thought if oil prices drop by a certain amount.

"2016 didn't get off to the start we hoped for," Chief Executive Michael Corbat said on a conference call to discuss results with analysts.

Citigroup, the fourth largest U.S. lender by assets, reported the biggest drop in profit among big U.S. banks that have released first-quarter results so far. However, lower operating expenses helped the bank beat Wall Street's low expectations.

Citi's share price was little changed by the close of trading, down 6 cents at $44.92. The shares are trading at a sharp discount to the value the bank places on its hard assets of $62.58 per share.

Banks globally have had a tough start to the year amid near-zero interest rates and an economic slowdown in China. Their loans to energy companies have only made things worse, as a slump in oil prices has led to bankruptcies and financial stress for many oil and gas producers. The industry has been doing all it can to reduce costs in an effort to minimize the blow of lower revenue.

Citigroup recorded $491 million in so-called "repositioning" charges as part of its cost-cutting effort. Those costs included severance payments for managers and trading staff, moving certain positions to lower-cost cities, and changing the way it uses real estate sometimes by exiting locations.

Wall Street businesses are getting hit because revenue is hard to come by. Citigroup's trading revenue dropped 15 percent last quarter from the year-ago period, while revenue from deals and underwriting fell 27 percent.   Continued...

A Citigroup logo is pictured from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange July 9, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid