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Could Citigroup's Pandit Be Next?

Citi's Vice Chairman Edward 'Ned' Kelly said at an investor presentation last week that it was difficult to give an exact time frame on when it will disentangle itself from its risky assets and businesses.

"We want to move as quickly as possible," Kelly said. "We recognize that there is a tension between eliminating the equity market overhang, which is generated by the uncertainty around the pace of decline and whatever losses might be associated with it" and "doing the sensible thing economically, given the current market conditions and volumes involved because these are large businesses."

In the meantime, Citi continues to manage and add loans in businesses like CitiFinancial, its North American consumer lending business, as well as its retail partner credit cards, in order to "optimize value," Kelly said.

Rochdale Securities analyst Richard Bove says it could take four to six years for the company to get out from under Citi Holdings at a cost of $25 billion to $30 billion a year. "It is these costs that will keep overall company's earnings under pressure," Bove writes in a Nov. 11 note.

Directors and management of weaker institutions are under "tremendous pressure" from shareholders to get their companies out of the morass created by the financial crisis, particularly as signs of economic life begin to show, observers say.

But "maybe investors are getting too optimistic too early," says Anthony Sabino, a professor of law and business at St. John's University and a private practice lawyer.

"It's a very tough call for a board to make," Sabino says. "We're at a delicate point in the economy where again there are positive signs, but we're certainly not out of the woods yet. In a lot of ways coming out of this is like building a building ... Has the cement hardened enough to put up the next floor in the building?"

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