So much for the captain going down with the ship. Vikram Pandit for the last five years has run Citigroup (NYSE:C) into the ground and now has been pushed overboard.
Citigroup is a real mess and perhaps new leadership can help straighten it out. First, Citigroup has lost its flagship retail brokerage operation, Salomon Smith Barney, to Morgan Stanley. This represents the end of a century-long enterprise that served retail customers.
The old Smith Barney commercial featuring John Hausman said: "They make money the old fashioned way, they earn it." The new Citigroup, though, manufactured money by peddling worthless mortgage-backed securities to the customers, and then left investors holding the bag.
Even the architect of the Citigroup super market model, Sandy Weill, recently said on CNBC that Citigroup should "break up" the investment banking and the commercial arms of the firm. Perhaps after all these decades, he now supports the return of Glass-Steagall.
Citigroup recently settled its class action lawsuits with shareholders for a whopping $600 million and has other significant legal exposure for deals made during the 2008 financial crisis.
Earlier this year, it failed the "stress test" administered by the Federal Reserve and had to abandon its plan to raise its dividend, a very public black eye.
Let's not forget the 10-for-1 stock split at $40, which failed to boost the stock price.
New management inherits quite a mess from Mr. Pandit and will have its hands full trying to turn around the bank. We've laid out the mess. But where does this all leave investors who either own Citigroup stock or bank there? Pandit's sudden, unexpected departure put those constituents in a pickle. Indeed, it appears the Securities and Exchange Commission is taking an informal look around the circumstances surrounding Mr. Pandit's abrupt departure. The SEC may be looking at a series of factual inconsistencies about Mr. Pandit leaving. Citigroup chairman Michael O'Neill and Mr. Pandit himself have asserted that Mr. Pandit left on his own. But media reports have said he was forced out.
The existence of such questions around the perceived monkey business of the Citigroup board and the fact that Citigroup has a new captain at the helm are, quite frankly, deplorable. Citigroup appears to be indulging in the similar type of behavior that brought that giant bank to its knees in the financial crisis of 2008. Deception, duplicity and obfuscation appear to be the strategies of the day. The Pandit episode makes it appear that Citigroup has learned nothing after receiving tens of billions of federal bailout dollars that allowed it to survive.
Perhaps we should offer a word of advice. Rather than just looking at your clients like Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) does- as "Muppets"- Citigroup may want to go back and listen to the old John Hausman ad, take a cue and start earning their money.
Disclosure: Zamansky & Associates are securities attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation and arbitration against financial institutions, including Citigroup.