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Now that U.S. taxpayers own roughly a third of banking giant Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , should we all be allowed to show up at the company's next annual meeting? Better yet, what if Citigroup's management team said what it really thought?
Let's suspend reality for a moment and find out.
John Andrews, Citigroup head of investor relations: Good afternoon. First of all, we would like to thank Pennsylvania State University for allowing us to rent their stadium to accommodate the amazing turnout for today's meeting. We would also like to thank Oprah for her help in setting us up with Skype, so that we can answer questions from those that couldn't get into one of Beaver Stadium's 107,000 seats.
Before taking the first question, the management team would like to ask that anyone with rotten vegetables hold them until the end of the question-and-answer session. While we respect your right to pelt us with rancid produce, it will distract us from answering questions, and we'd prefer if it be done all at once at the end.
Without further ado, we'll take the first question.
Allan Artman, Philadelphia, PA: In your public filings, you describe the company as, "a global diversified financial services holding company whose businesses provide a broad range of financial services to consumer and corporate customers." Do you think this description accurately reflects the business today?
Vikram Pandit, Citigroup CEO: Well, no. We hope that one day that statement will accurately reflect Citigroup's focus, but a more accurate one at present would be something like this: "Citigroup is a 'too big to fail' financial institution that's skating on thin ice and is trying desperately to keep its head above water while not running afoul of the fickle U.S. government."
Mallory Mirabella, New York, NY: Competitors of yours, such as Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) , and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) , have produced huge profits through their trading operations, no doubt enabled by the free money from the Federal Reserve. Why not take Citigroup in this direction?
John Gerspach, Citigroup CFO: The numbers certainly line up to make the type of transition you're suggesting. After all, we've proven that we're not all that good at lending money. Well, actually, we're great at lending money -- just not to people who will pay it back. And while our results actually have been largely driven by our non-banking operations, we're not nearly as good at it as our competitors.
Hugh Stevenson, Los Angeles, CA (via Skype): What exactly is Citigroup good at?
Pandit and Gerspach: [Simultaneously] We're really big.
Gerspach: [laughing] I owe you a Coke.
Lonnie Lachermeier, Des Moines, IA: Can you please walk us through Citi Holdings?
Pandit: [Extended string of expletives]
Gerspach: Citi Holdings is the portion of Citigroup's business that we'd like everyone to forget about. It's a way for us to take everything that makes Citigroup look bad and put it to the side, so that we can point to the results of Citicorp and claim that things are looking better.
The way to think about it is this. Imagine your wife of 30 years decides to leave you for a 26-year-old artist, emotionally destroying you and ruining your life. To deal with it, you take everything that reminds you of her -- the wedding pictures, her crystal champagne flutes, the Matisse print from the living room -- and shove them all into a tiny back room in the house and never talk about it. That's Citi Holdings.
Max Hoadley, Austin, TX (via Skype): What worries you the most about Citigroup's future?
Gerspach: Did you hear me just walk through Citi Holdings?
Pandit: I'm not quite sure where to start. U.S. unemployment is topping 10%, and if we include "discouraged workers," we're at more than 17%. Our legacy loans weren't all that good to start with, and having nearly one out five U.S. workers sitting on their thumbs certainly doesn't help us.
We've sold off some of our best assets, including 51% of Smith Barney to Morgan Stanley, and all of Phibro to Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY ) . I'll level with you here: I fell asleep crying with a picture of Andy Hall for a week after we unloaded Phibro.
We are also a party to somewhere near $2 trillion in credit default swaps, and the majority of the counterparties are other banks. Do you think we feel any better about Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) than you do? But to our credit, the joke's on all of them, because we're in much worse shape than nearly all of our counterparties. And for those keeping score, we have a much larger CDS portfolio than those jokers at AIG (NYSE: AIG ) .
And of course, we can't forget the fact that I'm getting paid all of $1 to coordinate this fetid crudfest of a bank. So if I were an investor, I might be concerned that Citi could lose its CEO pretty soon.
Mike Earhart, Charlotte, NC: This question is for Mr. Pandit. Would you buy Citigroup stock today?
Pandit: Let's look at the facts here. When I started at Citi, I was given 1.1 million shares and 3 million options. At the time, the shares were worth more than $25 million, and a third of the options were at the money. Today, the shares are worth less than $5 million and the options are so far underwater, Jacques Cousteau couldn't find them. Furthermore, back in 2008, I spent $6.9 million of my own money on Citi common stock. Today, that stock is $3.2 million.
Basically, I've had enough of my eggs crushed by having them in the Citi basket. I think this year, I'll invest my $1 in a delicious McDonald's McDouble instead.
Andrews: And that's all the questions we have time for folks. Thank you for joining us, and if you have any vegetables with you, now is the time to throw them.
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