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分拆花旗不是万全之策

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Citi Cure: Tough Love Or Kid Gloves?

Two days after Vikram Pandit took the top job at Citigroup Inc., the bank capitulated on its off-balance-sheet financing vehicles, lost its chief operating officer and began 'a companywide review of our structure and expense base.'

But the big question hanging over Mr. Pandit is whether he should take a meat cleaver to the Citigroup empire. Doing so would please many investors and analysts who say the bank's parts would be worth more than the whole, but such a plan might be costlier than people think. Citigroup executives already have gone through these breakup scenarios and found that the bank, its capital depleted by losses on mortgage securities, may face regulatory scrutiny, see its credit rating cut and be hit with a big tax bill, according to an outside advisor who helped the bank to analyze a breakup.

The retirement of Chief Operating Officer Robert Druskin wasn't a shock. He was a Citigroup veteran recruited by the bank's architect, Sandy Weill, and he was a close ally of former CEO Charles Prince, who resigned last month as the bank warned of billions of dollars in mortgage-related losses. Mr. Druskin, 60, oversaw the last big round of cuts last spring, which included about 17,000 jobs, or about 5% of Citigroup's staff.

Citigroup executives have again been instructed to find areas to cut, and the result may be thousands more layoffs next year, people familiar with the matter say. Other, less dramatic, moves are more likely in the near future, including better integration of businesses and management shuffling. In a memo to employees, Mr. Pandit named Chief Financial Officer Gary Crittenden to lead the effort.

The move to consolidate $49 billion of structured investment vehicles onto its balance sheet showed how much pressure Mr. Pandit is under to get the bank back in order. Citigroup was forced to bring the assets onto its balance sheet because of a potential review by the credit-ratings firms, and while the bank's capital levels will decline only slightly, it may prevent any dramatic moves by Mr. Pandit.

'We think it would be much more likely for Vikram to cut the dividend, replenish capital more quickly, get the ship righted and then possibly consider splitting the company up, several years down the road,' Morgan Stanley analyst Betsy Graseck wrote to clients Wednesday.

A few hours after the board named him CEO on Tuesday, Mr. Pandit told analysts and investors that one of his top priorities is 'an objective and dispassionate review of all our businesses.' Asked about the possibility of spinoffs, Mr. Pandit didn't slam the door. Some interpreted the remarks as a sign that the former Morgan Stanley executive, who joined Citigroup in July after the company bought his hedge fund, isn't wedded to the 'financial supermarket' model that his predecessors steadfastly defended.

One idea that has been discussed is merging Citigroup's thriving wealth-management business, in particular its Smith Barney retail brokerage, with its struggling U.S. retail-banking group, one person said. That would be a natural outgrowth of a strategy already under way, in which Smith Barney brokers now work in some Citibank branches. Combining the units would parallel Mr. Pandit's approach to Citigroup's investment bank. During his brief tenure overseeing the unit, Mr. Pandit took steps to encourage greater cooperation between different types of bankers, to provide more seamless service to clients.

A Citigroup spokeswoman declined to comment.

Analysts estimate that if Citigroup splintered into several companies -- a U.S. retail bank, an overseas retail bank, an investment bank and a retail brokerage -- the entities could have a combined value of 16% to 32% more than Citigroup's current stock price. With Citigroup's shares down about 44% this year, those scenarios appeal to frustrated investors.

The most commonly mentioned breakup scenario would entail Citigroup spinning off one or more units to shareholders. Such a transaction would be tax-free. But while Citigroup shareholders might gain, the company might not. By shedding profitable business lines, Citigroup would be relinquishing a source of retained earnings, an important part of a bank's capital base. Capital levels measure a bank's financial strength, essentially gauging how much of a cushion it has to absorb major losses.

'That in and of itself might argue against a spinoff because it would deplete their capital,' said Robert Willens, an accounting and tax expert at Lehman Brothers.

That could be a deal breaker. Citigroup's capital levels remain above regulatory minimums but have fallen below the company's internal target of 7.5%. With Citigroup bracing for as much as $11 billion in mortgage-related losses in the fourth quarter, the capital levels could dive again. Regulators might balk at a breakup plan that would further erode the capital cushion.

'I don't think breaking up the whole business is going to be something that regulators will look on with great fondness right now,' especially with fresh write-downs looming, said Christopher Whalen, a managing director at Institutional Risk Analytics.

Given Citigroup's capital plight, some analysts have suggested that Citigroup could sell a business line and use the proceeds to shore up its capital levels. Smith Barney, for example, could prove attractive to a company such as Bank of America Corp., which lacks a major retail brokerage force. David Hendler, an analyst at CreditSights Inc., said that if Citigroup sustains major additional write-downs, selling a unit might be the only way for the company to avoid slicing its quarterly dividend.

But a sale would generate a hefty tax bill. The outside adviser to Citigroup, who has evaluated the feasibility of spinoffs for the company, says taxes could consume about 40% of the proceeds of such a transaction, and therefore wouldn't be worthwhile given the revenue Citigroup would be sacrificing.

Meanwhile, shedding units could inflate the borrowing costs for Citigroup and any newly-independent businesses. Citigroup currently enjoys high credit ratings, keeping its borrowing costs low, in large part because of its diverse business model. If one segment stumbles, another is likely to pick up the slack. The result, at least in theory, is a stable income stream.

'Anything they do to de-diversify is a negative consideration in the rating,' said Tanya Azarchs, a managing director in the financial-institutions ratings group at Standard & Poor's. 'Each of its parts would not necessarily get an AA rating on its own.' The parent company also could see its ratings cut, she said.

在潘伟迪(Vikram Pandit)出任花旗集团(Citigroup Inc.)首席执行长之后仅仅两天,该行就决定将表外投资实体的资产计入公司资产负债表,并开始对公司的组织架构和费用基础来一次内部大审查,而花旗首席营运长罗伯特•德鲁斯金(Robert Druskin)也将于年底前退休。

不过,潘伟迪面临的一个大问题是他是否应该分拆整个花旗王国。如果他这么做了,无疑将取悦许多认为花旗部分资产比整体资产更有价值的投资者及分析师,但他要是真的实施这一计划,其成本恐怕要超出人们想像。据一位负责分析拆分计划的外聘顾问透露,花旗管理层已经仔细审视了分拆可能带来的种种后果,他们发现已深受抵押证券损失拖累的花旗可能会受到监管部门的详细审查、其信用评级或被下调,而且还要背上巨额的税项支出。

德鲁斯金的退休决定对花旗倒也算不上一个意外打击。现年60岁的他是花旗的元老级人物,是由这个金融王国的缔造者──威尔(Sandy Weill)亲自招进公司的,也是前首席执行长普林斯(Charles Prince)的亲密战友。在上个月花旗宣布计入数十亿的次债损失后,普林斯黯然辞职。去年春天,在德鲁斯金的指挥下,花旗完成了距今最近的一次大规模裁员,有1.7万人离开了公司,占花旗员工总数的5%左右。

知情人士表示,花旗管理层再次被告知应寻找可削减的岗位,此举可能导致明年该行再次裁员数千人。此外,公司可能在近期推行一些不那么激烈的举措,包括更好地整合业务并在管理方面“洗牌”。潘伟迪在一份内部备忘录中宣布,已任命公司首席财务长盖里•克里藤登(Gary Crittenden)负责此事。

花旗将其结构性投资工具(SIV)总计490亿美元的资产计入资产负债表的决定表明,潘伟迪在重整花旗的道路上背负着巨大压力。花旗这么做是不得已而为之,因为评级机构可能对其信用评级进行重估。此外,虽然这么做会让该行资本金水平稍有下降,但这也是为了使潘伟迪日后免于开出更猛烈的药方。

摩根士丹利分析师贝茨•格拉斯克(Betsy Graseck)上周三向客户表示,摩根士丹利认为潘伟迪更可能采取的措施是减少分红、更快地补充资本金,将业务恢复正常,然后才有可能考虑在几年后拆分公司。

上周二,在潘伟迪刚被董事会任命为首席执行长之后几个小时,他就向分析师和投资者表示,自己的首要任务之一就是客观、冷静地评估花旗的所有业务。当被问及拆分的可能性时,潘伟迪并没有把路堵死。有些人认为这表明潘伟迪不是百分之百认同其前任坚决主张的“金融超级市场”模式。潘伟迪是今年7月份才离开摩根士丹利的,当时花旗收编了他名下的对冲基金。

一位知情者透露,正在探讨的策略之一是将花旗集团发展得很好的财富管理业务(特别是其零售经纪行美邦(Smith Barney))与其苦苦挣扎的美国零售银行集团进行合并。由于美邦的经纪人目前就在花旗银行(Citibank)的部分分支机构当中工作,如果真的实现上述合并,也算是花旗集团当前业务模式的一种自然产物。在该合并计划的执行过程中,潘伟迪可以以一种并行的方式重整花旗集团的投行业务。潘伟迪在被提拔为首席执行长之前曾短暂出任花旗投行业务负责人,当时他鼓励从事不同业务的银行家加大彼此合作,给客户提供更顺畅的服务。

花旗集团发言人拒绝就此置评。

分析师预计,如果花旗拆分为美国零售银行、海外零售银行、投行以及零售经纪行等几家公司,那么这些实体的总价值将较花旗当前股票市值高16%至32%。由于今年花旗股价已重挫了约44%,若该公司决意进行拆分,那么心灰意冷的投资者应该会欢欣鼓舞。

一个最经常被人提及的分拆意向是花旗把一个或多个业务分拆给股东。这样的交易将是免税的。不过此时,股东可能是赢家,而公司可能是输家。把盈利的业务出让之后,花旗就放弃了一份有保障的利润,而这正是该行资本基础的关键组成部分。对于一家银行而言,资金水平衡量的是它的金融实力,它尤其可以用来衡量当发生严重损失时,一家银行有多少资金可拿来用作缓冲。

雷曼兄弟公司(Lehman Brothers)的会计及税务专家罗伯特•威兰斯(Robert Willens)表示,花旗自己可能会对拆分表示反对,因为这将给公司的资本状况带来重创。

有一件事情可能阻断此类交易。花旗集团的资本水平虽然仍在监管部门规定的底线上方,但已经达不到7.5%的内部目标。由于花旗在第四财政季度即将冲减高达110亿美元的抵押贷款相关损失,该行的资本水平将再次大幅下滑。由于公司分拆将进一步削弱其资金缓冲能力,此时监管部分可能会阻止此类交易。

Institutional Risk Analytics的董事总经理克里斯托弗•维伦(Christopher Whalen)表示,他并不认为将花旗业务分拆会得到监管机构的赞许,尤其是在很有可能发生新的资产冲减之时。

考虑到花旗集团的资本现状,一些分析师认为花旗可能出售一项业务,并用所得收入支撑起资本水平。举例来说,美邦就可能获得美国银行(Bank of America Corp.)等公司的青睐,对后者来说,零售经纪业务正好是其弱项。CreditSights Inc.的分析师大卫•汉德勒(David Hendler)表示,如果花旗继续大规模冲销资产的话,将某一业务出售是唯一能够避免削减季度派息的办法。

但出售业务又会带来沉重的税务负担。为花旗评估拆分可行性的外聘顾问表示,交易收入中大约40%都要拿来上税,再考虑到业务出售会给花旗收入带来的影响,那么这样的交易简直就是得不偿失。

与此同时,业务部门出售将加大花旗集团以及任何新近独立业务的借贷成本。当前花旗还拥有较高的信用评级,因而借贷成本较低,这多半应归功于公司业务的多元化。对于一家业务种类较多的企业而言,如果一个部门出现了问题,其他部门尚有可能填补其亏空,这样一来,理论上说应能保证利润的稳定。

标准普尔(Standard & Poor's)负责金融机构评级业务的董事总经理泰娅•阿赞克斯(Tanya Azarchs)表示,只要花旗做出有违业务多元化原则的决定,该行的评级都有可能受到不利影响,花旗任何一项独立出来的业务都未必能获得AA评级,母公司的评级也有可能下调。
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