Let's face it - the news about Citigroup (C) these past several weeks has been dismal - negatively impacting its stock and the exchange-traded funds like the iShares Global Financials (IXG) that that has the bank as one of its top holdings.
But we added Citigroup to our holdings of thirty multinationals this week in part because the news cannot get much worse for what was once the premier global bank. If only we could bring back Walter Wriston.
Mr. Chuck Prince, the head of Citigroup, is living on borrowed time as he alerted analysts that the American bank's profits for the quarter would plunge by 60% compared with the same period of 2006. Citigroup announced write-downs of $1.4 billion on commitments to leveraged buy-outs, as well as further substantial losses on mortgage-backed securities and fixed-income trading. I am sorry to say that Citigroup stock will soon jump 10% on the day that Mr. Prince jumps with his golden parachute.
Now for some good news. Citigroup's troubles did not stop it from agreeing to take full control of Nikko Cordial, a leading Japanese broker. The acquisition will help position Citigroup for an expected switch by Japanese household savers into higher-yielding assets. This is potentially a huge market.
Japan's postal system is really the world's largest financial institution with assets estimated to exceed $3 trillion representing more than 50% of Japan's GDP. Starting last October, it is to be privatized step by step over the next 10 years. This will move deposits from government accounts to private accounts and perhaps encourage Japanese investors to put more cash to work in stocks rather than leaving so much cash in their accounts.
At the end of September 2006, cash and deposits accounted for 51.3% of total financial assets at Japanese households, while the ratio stood at only 13.3% at the U.S. households. In short, Japan is at the center of Asian growth plus the Japanese have household savings equal to three times its GDP ($12 trillion) – and will need to invest more inequities to meet their retirement needs.
This huge amount of cash sitting on the sidelines is just one more reason not to write off Japanese ETFs such as (EWJ), which are full of world class companies at the heart of Asian and world growth.