Sunday, October 25, 2009

Citigroup (Citibank) Might Implode; Citi is in trouble.

If you watch economic and market websites there has been some interesting news lately out of Citigroup.

Check this out:
Citi (C) is abruptly shutting down credit cards linked to gas station partners.

The bank is offering few details:

The bank said in a statement it "decided to close a limited number of oil partner co-branded MasterCard accounts." That includes not only Shell, but Citgo, ExxonMobil and Phillips 66-Conoco cards.

The close date was Wednesday, and letters were sent out Monday to customers informing them of the change, a Citi spokesman said. The bank would not say how many cards were shut down or how much available credit they represented.

Here's what The Market Ticker has to say...
Citibank's average yield year-to-date (consumer and plastic) was about 12%. But they're suffering 10% defaults, making their true margin about 2%. That's still a positive number.... if it's accurate.

This spread, of course, has a lot to do with previously-issued fixed-rate 12.99% cards (they and everyone else had a lot) that were handed out like candy to everyone and their brother, frequently with $10,000, $20,000 or even $50,000 credit lines.

Huge numbers of small business owners - especially sole proprietors - use these cards as a means of financing operations. They relied on that 10 or 12% interest rate, and most of them have huge balances outstanding.

I have since confirmed that this letter is not just going to people who have had credit "challenges". Indeed, this appears to be a blanket change on the part of Citibank. I now have multiple copies from people who assert that they have 750+ FICOs and have never missed a payment on this or any other obligation - the "paragon" of so-called "responsible" credit use. All of the letters are identical.

The problem should be obvious - for someone with one of the 12.99% cards that is now 30%, this is a radical change that more than doubles monthly interest expense. Of those who have sent me copies of this letter and disclosed their previous rate, none were over 20%, meaning that these changes represent 50% or greater interest rate increases. If you're anywhere near the edge of being unable to pay, this will shove you off the bridge and into the deep, shark-infested water of bankruptcy.

Perhaps what we're really seeing is a business reacting to hidden deterioration of asset bases that are not known by investors and the public due to the legitimation of bogus accounting that happened this last March, but which is known by company executives!

This sort of "terms change", which is an effective declaration of default even against those who haven't defaulted (see above; the same 30% rate is being applied to defaulted and non-defaulted accounts!), will drive two consumer behaviors that could ultimately destroy Citibank's credit card business and perhaps the bank as a whole:

1. Those who can transfer balances out somewhere else and/or pay them off will immediately do so. Nobody is going to pay a 30% interest rate and an imposition of default rates on non-defaulted balances willingly and on purpose unless they have no other choice.

2. A significant number of people, on receipt of this notice and understanding what it means (a declaration that non-defaulted accounts are being charged the same penalty rate as a defaulted account!) will immediately go out and charge up the entire unused balance on their card and then intentionally default.

In short, this looks to me like a "Hail Mary" pass. So long as this remains a Citibank-only story my interpretation is that Citibank is in a lot worse financial shape than is being let on - perhaps poor enough that they're at risk of imploding anyway, "too big to fail" or not.

An economic blog's comments
Citigroup needs money, and needs money badly. Moreover, there is no reason to believe this is all credit card related. In fact, there is every reason to believe Citigroup (and other banks) are in trouble on multiple fronts.

Possible Credit Dislocation: Be Warned

It's bound to happen that one of these "To big to failers." Only a matter of time in my book. Now all we need is a rumor floating around that something big will happen (Leeman copy) and their stock will plummet so fast you can hear it scream.

Take note that MSM will not notice the start of this. They will clue in when the major signs are flashing neon bright in their faces, saying "CITIGROUP IS DEAD AND DYING!"
Probably around November 4th or 5th is when youll see this news hitting the MSM.

I see some banks, MAJOR banks, imploding in the near future.

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