No U.S. bank is more vulnerable to international financial developments than global megabank Citigroup (NYSE:C). But this alone shouldn't lead you to conclude that turmoil in Greece will hobble America's third biggest bank by assets.
On Monday morning, Citigroup's president James Forese addressed the issue at the 2015 Morgan Stanley Financials Conference. "[W]e've been concerned [about Greece] for a while," Forese told the assembled analysts. As such, Citigroup has taken steps to reduce its direct exposure to the southern European country over the last few years.
At the end of the first quarter, Citigroup had total third-party assets and liabilities of approximately $44 million and $481 million, respectively, in the company's Greek branch, according to its latest 10-Q. This compared to approximately $36 million and $915 million, respectively, at the end of 2014.
Citigroup scaled down its exposure last year by selling its consumer-banking business in the country to Alpha Bank, the fourth-largest bank by assets in Greece.
As a result of the deal, Alpha Bank acquired 480,000 consumers, $1.4 billion in deposits, and $540 million in card and loan accounts, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time. "This decision furthers Citi's global strategy of focusing our resources where we feel we have a competitive advantage, which includes our corporate banking businesses in Greece," said Grant Carson, CEO of Citi Greece.
The only remaining direct exposure Citigroup has to Greece is through its Institutional Clients Group, which provides banking and financial products and services to corporate, institutional, government, and high-net-worth clients. Furthermore, the assets retained relate to "high-quality corporate loans not subject to redenomination," says its 10-Q.
To be clear, this shouldn't be interpreted to mean that potential losses from a Greek exit from the European monetary union are necessarily capped for Citigroup at the figures cited above -- namely, $44 million and $481 million in total third-party assets and liabilities.
"I think the real worry that most people would probably express about Greece would be the secondary order effects or the tertiary effects of what happens to someone and how does that -- what does that mean for someone else and what does that mean then for you as that trickles through the system," Forese continued.
The one saving grace is that banks and other multinational companies have had time to prepare. "Greece is a well-known issue and been out there for a while, so hopefully the whole system has been able to make adjustments," Citigroup's president concluded.
Of course, this is exactly what one would expect a Citigroup executive to say. After all, executives at publicly traded corporations have a duty to paint situations in the best light possible, lest they ignite a sell off of their employer's stock.
That being said, and to Forese's point, assuming the turmoil around Greece's debt issues doesn't spread to other countries in Europe, it seems reasonable to assume that a bank with Citigroup's stature and ability to attract high-level talent will indeed have already positioned itself to absorb the impact.