Despite Capital Infusions, U.S. Government Should Not Dictate Bank Behavior

With at least a mini Citigroup (C) break-up plan coming to fruition, there is chatter that the U.S. government has a hand in some of these decisions. The justification is that the TARP program has resulted in the government directly injecting capital into banks like Citigroup, and as a result they are shareholders and have a large influence on guiding future operational decisions.

This is an interesting assumption because the government does not own common shares in Citigroup or any other U.S. bank, and therefore has no controlling rights like other shareholders do. The preferred shares the government bought carry no voting rights, as that is a core characteristic of preferred stock. The government does have warrants to buy common stock in the future, but those warrants are under water and as long as they are not exercised, they don’t bring with them any rights of control.

If the government really is behind much of Citigroup’s decision making, it may signal that the bank knows it will need more financial assistance down the road and therefore feels it must comply with government requests. If not, I would tell them to buzz off.

As for the break-up plan itself, does it make me bullish on Citigroup stock? Not really. While it is a step in the right direction, Citi still has one of the weakest balance sheets in the industry. It is practically impossible to know what their assets are worth and how high future losses will be. As a result, trying to accurately value the company is extremely difficult. The stock is cheap, but that alone is not enough of a reason to buy it.

Full Disclosure: No position in Citigroup at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time