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Citigroup Gets a Reprieve: Mike Mayo

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- CLSA analyst Mike Mayo believes Citigroup (C - Get Report) has earned itself a "reprieve" from shareholders calling for a bank breakup.

In an interview with TheStreet following Citigroup's annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, the veteran analyst said he was encouraged by "the incremental progress" the bank has made in the last few months and that his interactions with the new management had left him more optimistic.

"For me, it is management over model. I am agnostic about how they realize value," he said. "The ultimate judge is the stock price."

If the stock is down next year, the shareholder calls to break the bank up will increase. For now, "Citigroup is on probation," says Mayo.

Mayo is a long-time critic of Citigroup who reversed his sell call in the fall of 2012 following the exit of former CEO Vikram Pandit.

The analyst, known for his outspoken criticism of Wall Street's excesses and for frequently clashing with managements over performance, is now broadening his role, becoming somewhat of an "activist" analyst.

In January, he managed to get approval from CLSA to buy 100 shares in stocks of Citigroup, Morgan Stanley (MS), State Street (STT) and KeyCorp (KEY), a move that exposes him to potential conflicts of interests. The analyst has "buy" ratings on the first two stocks and "outperform ratings" on the latter two.

He hopes the investment positions will provide him more access to management through shareholder meetings and allow him to push for change as a shareholder.

On Wednesday, Mayo attended Citigroup's shareholder meeting for the first time in his career as an analyst. Calling it a "fantastic experience" Mayo said it provided him fresh perspective. "Seeing the directors in person, looking them in the eye and shaking their hands after talking with them, they were finally more than names on a page," he said.

Watching new CEO Mike Corbat and Chairman Mike O'Neill tackle their first annual meeting, Mayo said he felt assured seeing the "natural interplay" between them and that any concerns about frictions in their relationship were put to rest, for now.
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