Citi's Chuck Gets a Gut Check

When it comes to evaluating companies as investments, analyzing management can be one of the most important -- and most difficult -- undertakings. One approach to this daunting task: Look at what management says, versus what it does.

Many investors are likely doing just that with Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) CEO Chuck Prince. Despite his stated plans for the bank, Chuck can't seem to make things happen. Deutsche Bank's (NYSE: DB  ) Mike Mayo took him to task for that precise failing on Citi's latest conference call.

Quoth Mayo: "Well, one of your main targets for this year was to grow revenues faster than expenses and that is not going to pan out. This could be the third year in a row where that doesn't pan out. That was clearly a very important factor."

In other words, "What exactly are you doing, Chuck?"

Later in his exchange with Prince, Mayo follows up with: "But you did say the board feels comfortable with the levels of [management] changes that have been made. So should we assume that the changes are done?" For a public company earnings conference call, which can all too often be a patty-cake affair these days, this is about as close as you'll get to anyone saying, "What's it going to take for the board to send you packing?"

Now, we can't lay all the blame on Chuck. Countless others, from U.S.-based Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER  ) and Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH  ) to overseas competitors like Deutsche and Credit Suisse (NYSE: CS  ) , have also suffered amid a tough environment. But it's also not like the skepticism over Prince's stewardship just appeared out of nowhere.

In the CAPS investing community, the stock has a poor two-star rating, and Chuck Prince would have a tough time finding any fans there. Even CAPS players who believe Citi will outperform the market seem negative about Prince. One such player, hiddenflem, gave the stock the thumbs-up yesterday, but noted, "Will the Prince go? My money says he's on the sidewalk soon." Similarly, longtermworm noted that "If Chuck Prince gets tossed the stock will pop."

Unfortunately for Prince, he may have a tougher time hiding out under the "tough market conditions" umbrella, given investors' preexisting lack of confidence. Unless he can somehow pull a rabbit (or a couple of billion dollars) out of his hat, it may be only a matter of time before this Prince turns back into a toad.

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