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Citigroup (NYSE: C ) wowed investors and Wall Street this morning with impressive earnings. And while the company's estimate-beating earnings may be enough for some investors to feel confident, others may find more evidence of the bank's strength by listening to its earnings call with analysts. Now, this morning's call was an hour and a half long, so to save you some time, here are the top three quotes from the call and how you should be looking at Citi going forward.
No 1: "We're sure to be tested as we go through the year"
Though the bank reported solid growth and plenty of progress, CEO Michael Corbat wanted to make sure that one thing was clear -- this is not a healthy environment for growth, and things will not be easy. Since Citi has the largest international presence of the big four banks in the U.S., it's more difficult to project growth when differing economies pose various challenges. Corbat noted that economic growth is uneven around the globe, with emerging markets growing at a near 5% pace and established countries closer to 1%. With the continued volatility in the U.S. and international markets, there are sure to be ups and downs ahead.
With other banks looking to expand internationally, Citi is a good bank to monitor for potential headwinds. This morning's news that Chinese economic growth has continued to slow will not be helpful for banks like JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) , which just invested millions in improving its branch networks in China.
No. 2: "The legal community is creative"
Prompted to speak on the possibility of legal troubles fading to the background, Corbat noted that it is entirely possible for more legal trouble to rear its head even when it seems improbable. Stating that he didn't think that lawyers have statutes of limitations, he expressed a calm resignation that even if you think something is behind you, that there are ways for lawyers to produce more opportunities.
This may be the same attitude held by leaders of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , which continues to be pummeled by a barrage of lawsuits. Since the rate of foreclosures is now on the rise again (with B of A holding the most), it's likely that the banks will see more courtroom action in the future.
No. 3: "We're not looking to increase our mortgage activity, except with our current retail banking base"
Most banks make the majority of their money from loans. And with mortgages providing a long-term stream of revenue, they are usually the pool of loans most in demand. But for Citigroup, that doesn't seem to be a priority. With its international focus and growing securities and banking operations, the bank has other products on its mind. Not only does this reduce costs for Citi, which won't have to fight with the other banks for new mortgage customers, but it also gives them less exposure to any slowdown in the current housing rebound.
Leave it to Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) , then, to lead the pack of mortgage originators. Topping the list of underwriters in 2012, the San Francisco-based bank was hit hard when it reported that its new loan activity had slowed when it released earnings Friday. With a few weeks of see-sawing mortgage applications data, it may be a boon for Citi not to focus its attention on fighting for a spot at the American-mortgage table.
Telling it like it is
It's often the case that conference calls aren't the most exciting thing to do in your spare time, but there are usually nuggets of information within the calls that make them very worth your time. In Citi's case, the executives were forthcoming about their expectations about the continued challenges set by our current economic conditions, as well as other headwinds the bank faces. But most of all, the call showed that there is a very competent set of people running Citigroup -- making the bank much more likely to steer through the troubled waters it may face in the coming months.
Citigroup's stock looks tantalizingly cheap. Yet the bank's balance sheet is still in need of more repair, and there's a considerable amount of uncertainty after a shocking management shakeup. Should investors be treading carefully, or jumping on an opportunity to buy? To help figure out whether Citigroup deserves a spot on your watchlist, I invite you to read our premium research report on the bank today. We'll fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Citigroup, and what areas that Citigroup investors need to watch going forward. Click here now for instant access to our best expert's take on Citigroup.