Citigroup earnings rise 74 percent, to $3.8 bln

AP News

10/17/2011 5:57:49 PM - AP News

Citigroup Inc.'s earnings rose 74 percent in the third quarter as more of its customers paid their bills on time, leading to lower losses from loans. An accounting gain also boosted income.

It was the seventh straight quarter of income growth for Citi, the nation's third-largest bank by assets. Citigroup was one of the biggest recipients of taxpayer support during the financial crisis. It received $45 billion in bailouts funds and was partly owned by the government until December 2010.

The New York bank's net income rose 74 percent, to $3.8 billion, due to lower losses from loans and an accounting gain related to the valuation of the bank's own debt. Citi's stock fell 1.7 percent to close at $27.93, less than other banks stocks.

The profit report came as the Occupy Wall Street movement entered its second month and spread across the country, targeting large financial institutions like Citi. As of Monday the bank said it had not yet been approached by organizers of the protest following an offer last week from Citigroup's CEO, Vikram Pandit, to meet with them.

Occupy Wall Street rallies started last month in New York with protests against income inequality and demands for higher taxes on the wealthy. CEOs like Pandit are prime targets. On Saturday, two dozen people were arrested after they entered a Citibank branch in New York and refused to leave.

Banks like Citi have benefited as Americans have improved their financial health, saving more and paying off their credit card debt on time. Citi's losses from bad loans fell 41 percent during the quarter to $4.5 billion as defaults fell on Citi-branded cards. That allowed Citi to add $1.4 billion to its earnings from credit reserves it had set aside earlier in anticipation of deeper losses.

However, the bank's ability to collect fees from raising interest rates on loans or from fees for late payments has decreased because of new regulations. That led to a 9 percent drop in revenue at its North American consumer business. Rival Wells Fargo & Co., which also released its results Monday, took a similar hit to its credit card fee income due to new banking rules.

Citi said new regulation has also changed its plans for its private-label credit card unit, which issues cards in partnership with retail stores. Citi had said it was planning to either sell or reduce the size of the unit. The bank reversed course after noticing that customers are using retailer-issued cards more. Pandit said in an internal memo to employees the business earned $2.2 billion so far this year as delinquencies declined.

Citi's income also included a $1.9 billion accounting gain. Citi had to take the accounting gain because the cost of its debt fell on the bond market. Since the bank could theoretically buy back that debt at a lower cost, accounting rules require that a gain be recorded. In the third quarter, corporate debt prices fell sharply due to the uncertainty in the financial markets.

With the accounting gain, its revenue edged up 1 percent to $20.86 billion. Excluding the gain, Citi's revenue fell 8 percent from the same period last year.

Trading in stocks and bonds and Citi's investment banking division were hurt by turmoil in financial markets brought on by the debt crisis in Europe and a downgrade of the U.S. government's credit rating in August. The volatility kept many investors away and led companies to put off stock and bond offerings. Those factors also led to a sharp drop in investment banking fees at rival JPMorgan Chase & Co. which reported earnings last week.

Citi's revenue from fixed income fell 33 percent to $2.3 billion; its stock business fell 73 percent to $289 million and investment banking fell 21 percent.

On a positive note, Citi's large network of international branches _ more than any other U.S. bank _ helped the bank offset some of the slowdown in the U.S. Led by Asia and Latin America, the bank's international consumer business increased 10 percent.

"Our deep roots in these markets give us efficient advantages," said Pandit in a conference call with analysts to discuss earnings.