1 Thing Investors Must Know About Citigroup

Citigroup is a massive bank with a lot to consider, but investors may not know there is one big difference between it and Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase.

Mar 25, 2014 at 3:55PM

There is one thing investors may or may not know about Citigroup (NYSE:C) which will either terrify or delight them.

Citigroup Tower By Asibiri
Citigroup Tower. Source: Flickr / asibiri.

Citigroup has long been in an interesting place. While it's rightfully included among Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) as the big four banks in the United States, it has a truly different composition of business.

Consider quickly the words of the CEO of Citigroup, Michael Corbat, who noted last April the strategy of the bank is "aligned with three dominant, long-term secular trends: one, globalization; two, urbanization; and three, digitization." Yet just last month he reaffirmed the decision of Citi to stick to these trends, saying those three categories were the "defining secular global trends of our time." 

The reality that the banking landscape and the broader economy is becoming increasingly global, urban, and digital is likely nothing new to investors; Citi's particular reliance on the global aspect of it might be, however.

Truly global
According to the latest data from the Federal Reserve, since 2009 Citigroup has added more than $55 billion in loans and leases internationally, growing its total foreign portfolio to almost $320 billion: 

Source: Federal Reserve.

And if you thought that sounded like a lot of loans outside the United States, that's because it is. Consider Citigroup has more foreign loans than Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan combined -- $318 billion versus $285 billion:

Source: Federal Reserve.

Yet perhaps even more remarkable than the size and scope of Citigroup's loans located outside the U.S. is its reliance on them, as they encompass nearly half of its total loan portfolio, whereas JPMorgan Chase is the next closest, with only 15% of its loans located in foreign countries:

In fact a quick glance at the balance sheet of Citigroup reveals it actually has more deposits outside of the U.S. than inside, with a staggering $556 billion housed internationally, and $413 located within the U.S.

All of this point to the truth: when Corbat suggested Citigroup was focused on the global economy, he truly meant it.

What it means to investors
At a recent presentation, the CFO of Citigroup John Gerspach highlighted that in 2005 just 10% of the global Fortune 500 was headquartered in emerging markets -- but today that number stands at 25%. He highlighted that as business and economic activity expands in the developing world, it will mean not only benefits to the firms which Citi has a relationship with, but also the individuals in those locations as well.

He went on to note:

Citi's global strategy makes us unique and different from other U.S. banks. We are a leading provider of financial services to the world's leading multinational corporations and investors, and we provide consumer banking to high-quality client segments in the world's largest cities. Our target client base is one which values our global network, and the scale and scope of our franchise is designed to serve their needs. We believe our global network is becoming more unique and more valuable every day.

Citi By S

Source: Flickr / S_E_Santana.

There's no denying the reality the world economy is expanding and maturing, which could mean huge benefits to a bank that positions itself at the center for both customers and firms. However there's also the reality that emerging markets are often riskier and can pose unique dangers to firms. Citigroup's recent announcement that it had to revise its 2013 income downwards by $360 million as a result of fraud in Mexico 2013 is an example of the dangers posed by being a truly global enterprise.

It's far too early to tell what the true impact of globalization will mean to Citigroup and its investors, but with each passing year it is becoming more and more reliant on its global footprint, which is something any potential investor must keep in mind.

The biggest change you never saw coming
While the global reach of Citigroup may come as a surprise, an even bigger one is coming for the entire banking industry. While that's not great news for consumers, it certainly creates opportunity for savvy investors. In fact there's a brand-new company that's revolutionizing banking, and is poised to kill the hated traditional brick-and-mortar banking model. Amazingly, despite its rapid growth, this company is still flying under the radar of Wall Street. For the name and details on this company, click here to access our new special free report.

Patrick Morris owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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