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Summary

  • Default probabilities for Citigroup have risen since our December 6 report.
  • The credit spread-to-default probability ratio for Citigroup, while lower than it has been, is still well above the median for bonds traded on May 2.
  • Only 53 of 287 bond issues heavily traded on May 2 offered a better reward-to-risk ratio than Citigroup's best bond.

In light of the recent earnings reports from the major U.S. banks, it is timely to update our analysis of Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C), which we last reviewed on December 6, 2013. We did also did an extensive analysis of the credit crisis history of Citigroup borrowings from the Federal Reserve and the events leading up to those borrowings on June 6, 2011. Citigroup Inc.'s consolidated borrowings during the credit crisis peaked at $24.2 billion on March 5, 2009, and the firm had borrowings outstanding on 211 days, according to Federal Reserve reports. With this history in mind, today's study incorporates Citigroup bond price data as of May 2, 2014 to analyze the potential risk and return to bondholders and common shareholders of Citigroup Inc.

Conclusion: While the default probabilities of Citigroup Inc. are very low compared to their peak in the credit crisis, they have been rising over the last six months. We believe that a strong majority of sophisticated analysts would continue to rank Citigroup Inc. as investment-grade by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act definition. As we said in both our December and August reports, Citigroup Inc. bonds rank in the top third of all bonds traded on May 2 by our "best value" criterion. It is a testimony to the financial clout of the readers of these notes that Citigroup Inc. bonds have been bid up steadily over the last six months relative to the firm's default probabilities, so the credit spread-to-default ratios for Citigroup Inc. bonds have declined over time. That being said, good value is still to be found in Citigroup Inc. bonds.

Analytical Objective

Interest rate risk managers at major firms like Citigroup Inc. use the marginal cost of funds reflected in the bond market to centralize interest rate risk and to measure internal profitability based on a "transfer pricing yield curve." Part of our objective in this note is to derive this curve. We also answer whether or not Citigroup Inc. would be considered "investment-grade" in light of the changed definition of investment-grade mandated by Dodd-Frank and recently implemented by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. For background on Dodd-Frank and related regulatory changes, see our December 6 analysis at the link above.

In this note, we analyze the updated current levels and past history of default probabilities for Citigroup Inc. We also measure the reward, in terms of credit spread, for taking on the default risk of Citigroup Inc. bonds. On May 2, 41 Citigroup Inc. senior non-call fixed rate bonds were traded 324 times for $154 million in volume. We used all of that data in this study.

Assuming the recovery rate in the event of default would be the same on all bond issues of the same seniority for the same issuer, a sophisticated investor who has moved beyond legacy ratings seeks to maximize revenue per basis point of default risk from each incremental investment, subject to risk limits on macro-factor exposure on a fully default-adjusted basis. We analyze the maturities where the credit spread-to-default probability ratio is highest for Citigroup Inc.

Term Structure of Default Probabilities

Maximizing the ratio of credit spread-to-matched maturity default probabilities requires that default probabilities be available at a wide range of maturities. The graph below shows the current default probabilities (in green) for Citigroup Inc., ranging from one month to 10 years on an annualized basis, compared to the default probabilities for December 5, 2013 (in yellow) which we used in our prior study. The default probabilities range from 0.07% at one month (up 0.05% from December) to 0.03% at 1 year (up 0.02%) and 0.10% at ten years (up 0.02%).

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We explain the source and methodology for the default probabilities in each Instablog posted by Kamakura Corporation on Seeking Alpha.

Summary of Recent Bond Trading Activity

The National Association of Securities Dealers launched the TRACE (Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine) in July 2002 in order to increase price transparency in the U.S. corporate debt market. The system captures information on secondary market transactions in publicly traded securities (investment-grade, high-yield and convertible corporate debt) representing all over-the-counter market activity in these bonds. We used the bond data mentioned above for the 41 Citigroup Inc. fixed rate non-call issues in this analysis.

The graph below shows 6 different yield curves that are relevant to a risk and return analysis of Citigroup Inc. bonds. These curves reflect the noise in the TRACE data, as some of the trades are small odd-lot trades. The lowest curve, in dark blue, is the yield to maturity on U.S. Treasury bonds, interpolated from the Federal Reserve H15 statistical release for that day, which matches the maturity of the traded bonds of Citigroup Inc. The second-lowest curve, in the lighter blue, shows the yields that would prevail if investors shared the default probability views outlined above, assumed that recovery in the event of default would be zero, and demanded no liquidity premium above and beyond the default-adjusted risk-free yield. The third curve from the bottom (the orange dots) graphs the lowest yield reported by TRACE on that day on Citigroup Inc. bonds. The fourth line from the bottom (the green dots) displays the average yield reported by TRACE on the same day. The highest yield (the red dots) is obviously the maximum yield in each Citigroup Inc. issue recorded by TRACE. For the readers' convenience, we have added a trade volume-weighted credit spread, fitted to the average traded credit spread at each maturity. This curve is shown as black dots joined by black line segments.

Note that the longest maturity Citigroup Inc. bond has a maturity of 84 years. We used the 30-year U.S. Treasury yield as a proxy for a matched-maturity U.S. Treasury rate, and we assumed that the annualized 84-year default probability for Citigroup Inc. would be at the same level as the 10-year default probability. The data makes it clear that there is a sizable liquidity premium built into the yields of Citigroup Inc. above and beyond the "default-adjusted risk free curve" (the risk-free yield curve plus the matched-maturity default probabilities for the firm). The credit spreads generally widen with maturity, the normal pattern for a high-quality credit, with the exception of three bonds with maturities near 30 years.

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The high, low and average credit spreads at each maturity are graphed below. Credit spreads are gradually increasing with the maturity of the bonds, with the exception of the maturities near 30 years.

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Using default probabilities in addition to credit spreads, we can analyze the number of basis points of credit spread per basis point of default risk at each maturity. This ratio of spread-to-default probability is shown in the following table for Citigroup Inc. At almost all maturities under 2.5 years, the reward from holding the bonds of Citigroup Inc., relative to the matched-maturity default probability, is 10 to 40 basis points of credit spread reward for every basis point of default risk. The ratio of spread-to-default probability decreases with maturity once the maturity of the bonds exceeds 2.5 years, falling to a spread-to-default ratio between 9 and 21 times. The reward-to-risk ratio has narrowed somewhat from our December analysis, and the December ratios also narrowed from our report on Citigroup Inc. in August.

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The same figures from December 5, 2013 are shown here:

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The credit spread-to-default probability ratios are shown in graphic form here. We have again added a traded-weighted polynomial relating the fitted credit spread-default probability ratio to the years to maturity on the underlying bonds.

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Relative Value Analysis

Is the reward-to-risk ratio for Citigroup Inc. higher than average, lower than average or just average? Rather than guess, we simply look at the facts. The chart below shows the credit spreads for all fixed rate senior non-call debt issues that traded at least $5 million in volume on May 2, 2014, and had at least 1 year to maturity. There were 287 bond issues that met our criteria. The median credit spread was 0.777%, and the average credit spread was 1.057%. This histogram shows the distribution of credit spreads available in the marketplace.

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The next graph shows the distribution of the credit spread-to-default probability ratios for all 287 issues. The median ratio was 7.933, and the average ratio was 12.740.

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How did Citigroup rank on May 2, 2014? Only 53 bond issues offered a better credit spread-to-default ratio than the best-ranked Citigroup Inc. bond. The Citigroup Inc. bonds that traded at least $5 million were all ranked at 109th or higher, all but one issue ranking in the top one-third of all bonds, when ranked by "best value."

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CUSIPs

Many investors have requested that we provide CUSIPs as part of this chart. Redistribution of CUSIPs is currently prohibited by Kamakura Corporation's contract with the data vendor. We are working hard to change this, so that we may make CUSIPs available in the future. In the meantime, CUSIPs for major issuers can be found easily with an internet search on web pages like this one from the New York Stock Exchange.

Credit-Adjusted Dividend Yield

We explained in a recent post on General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) how default probabilities and the associated credit spreads for a bond issuer can be used to calculate the credit-adjusted dividend yield on a stock. That analysis makes use of a comparison between the yield on the issuer's promise to pay $1 in the future versus the yield on a similar promise by the U.S. government to pay $1 at the same time. Using the maximum smoothness approach to both the U.S. Treasury curve and to Citigroup Inc. credit spreads, we can generate the zero coupon bond yields on their promise to pay $1 in the future, which are shown in this graph:

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The widening of zero coupon credit spreads is important. If we discount dividend payments for maturities of 1, 10 and almost 30 years, we can solve for the "credit risk-free" dividend for Citigroup Inc. This would be the dividend level for a default risk-free issuer (we assume as a first approximation that the U.S. Treasury is default risk-free) that has the same present value as the flow of dividends from Citigroup Inc. over almost 30 years. We use this data from Seeking Alpha:

The history of Citigroup Inc. dividends is nicely summarized on the company website.

Readers who prefer a real-time update of the dividend yield information can see that here. After projecting the flow of dividends from Citigroup Inc. at the quarterly rate of $0.01 and using the present value factors implied by Citigroup Inc. bond prices, we find that the long-term credit-adjusted dividend yield is 0.060%, 0.025% less than the traditional dividend yield of 0.085% (note that the yield on the Seeking Alpha website is different because of lags in updating the figure as the stock price changes). Both calculations assume that the dividends remain at their current level forever, except in the credit-adjusted case, we recognize that Citigroup Inc. may default, ending the dividend stream. The bond-based discount factors incorporate this fact.

Credit Default Swap Analysis

The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation reports weekly on new credit default swap trading volume by reference name. For the week ended April 25, 2014 (the most recent week for which data is available), the credit default swap trading volume on Citigroup Inc. was 73 trades with $727 million of notional principal, roughly the same trading volume as Citigroup Inc. bonds over the course of a full week. The notional principal traded on Citigroup Inc. in the credit default swap market since July 2010 is shown here:

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The next graph shows the number of credit default swaps traded on Citigroup Inc. over the same time period.

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Additional Analysis

On a cumulative basis, the current default probabilities (shown in green) for Citigroup Inc. range from 0.03% at 1 year (up 0.02% from December, shown in yellow) to 0.99% at 10 years (up 0.17% from December), as shown in the following graph.

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Over the last decade, the 1-year and 5-year default probabilities for Citigroup Inc. have varied, as shown in the following graph. The 1-year default probability peaked at just under 40% in the first half of 2009, during the worst part of the credit crisis. The 5-year default probability (annualized) peaked at just over 10%.

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The macro-economic factors driving the historical movements in the default probabilities of Citigroup Inc. have been derived using historical data beginning in January 1990. A key assumption of such analysis, like any econometric time series study, is that the business risks of the firm being studied are relatively unchanged during this period. This assumption is certainly false in the case of Citigroup Inc., where the new management team has dramatically reduced the firm's exposure to U.S. home price risk. With that caveat, the historical analysis shows that Citigroup Inc. default risk responds to changes in five factors among those listed by the Federal Reserve in its 2014 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review. These macro factors explain 75.3% of the variation in the default probability of Citigroup Inc. The remainder of the risk is the idiosyncratic default risk of Citigroup Inc.

Citigroup Inc. can be compared with its peers in the same industry sector, as defined by Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) and reported by Compustat. For the US "diversified financials" sector, Citigroup Inc. has the following percentile ranking for its default probabilities among its 224 peers at these maturities:

1 month 81st percentile, up 26 percentiles since December

1 year 59th percentile, up 25

3 years 48th percentile, up 16

5 years 20th percentile, up 8

10 years 12th percentile, up 2

The increase in Citigroup Inc. default probabilities that we discussed above has resulted in a deterioration of the relative ranking of the company within its peer group. The percentile ranking for Citigroup Inc. at 5 and 10 years is in the safest quartile of credit risk among diversified financial firms. Shorter-term percentile rankings, however, are in or near the riskiest half of diversified financials.

The legacy credit ratings, those reported by credit rating agencies like McGraw-Hill (NYSE:MHFI) unit Standard & Poor's and Moody's (NYSE:MCO), for Citigroup Inc. have changed four times during the decade. A comparison of the legacy credit rating for Citigroup Inc. with predicted ratings indicates that the statistically predicted rating is exactly the same as the actual legacy credit rating. Both the actual and predicted ratings are "investment-grade" by traditional credit rating standards of Moody's Investors Service and the Standard & Poor's affiliate of McGraw-Hill.

Conclusions

Before reaching any conclusions about investment-grade status, it is useful to look at some additional market views of Citigroup Inc. and its peers. The following graph compares the traded credit spreads on Citigroup Inc. with the traded credit spreads on the "banks/finance" peer group on May 2, 2014:

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The credit spreads for Citigroup Inc. were near the middle of the sector peer group. We now look at the matched-maturity default probabilities for Citigroup Inc. versus that same peer group. Citigroup Inc. default probabilities are slightly below average for the peer group, even though its spreads were near the average.

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We now compare the traded credit spreads for Citigroup Inc. with the traded spreads for every firm with a legacy credit rating in the old-style "investment-grade" range. Again, Citigroup Inc. spreads are near the average of this peer group in most cases. (click to enlarge)

By the matched-maturity default probability criterion, comparing to investment grade firms with bond trades on May 2, Citigroup Inc.'s default probabilities are well below average.

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While the default probabilities of Citigroup Inc. are very low compared to their peak in the credit crisis, they have been rising over the last six months. We believe that a strong majority of sophisticated analysts would continue to rank Citigroup Inc. as investment-grade by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act definition. Regular readers of these notes know that low default probabilities, per se, are not enough to make the bonds of a given issuer "good value." How do Citigroup Inc. bonds rank among all other bonds by the ratio of credit spread-to-default probability? As we said in both our December and August reports, Citigroup Inc. bonds rank in the top third of all bonds traded on May 2 by our "best value" criterion. It is a testimony to the financial clout of the readers of these notes that Citigroup Inc. bonds have been bid up steadily over the last six months relative to the firm's default probabilities, so the credit spread-to-default ratios for Citigroup Inc. bonds have declined over time. That being said, good value is still to be found in Citigroup Inc. bonds.

Author's Note

Regular readers of these notes are aware that we generally do not list the major news headlines relevant to the firm in question. We believe that other authors on Seeking Alpha, Yahoo, at The New York Times, The Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal do a fine job of this. Our omission of those headlines is intentional. Similarly, to argue that a specific news event is more important than all other news events in the outlook for the firm is something we again believe is inappropriate for this author. Our focus is on current bond prices, credit spreads, and default probabilities, key statistics that we feel are critical for both fixed income and equity investors.

Source: Citigroup Inc.: Default Risk Is Up, But Bonds Are Still Good Value