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Citigroup Shouldn't Rush to Pay Back TARP

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Citigroup (C - Get Report) should keep trudging through the sludge toward its goals of becoming a slimmer bank and working through large consumer credit losses without being distracted by Bank of America's (BAC - Get Report) plan to pay back $45 billion in bailout funds.

Citigroup has been back above the fold in recent days as media outlets speculate when and how the ailing institution will break free from its TARP shackles, given Bank of America's surprising announcement last week.

According to media reports on Monday, Citigroup, which also received $45 billion worth of bailout funds, has little more than a week to begin a capital-raising effort to repay government-owned trust preferred securities, otherwise it will have to wait until after it reports its fourth-quarter results in mid-January.

The Treasury Department owns 33% of Citigroup's common equity through a conversion of $25 billion worth of preferred stock earlier this year. That stake, originally part of the company's TARP funding, is now the government's to sell. What's left for Citigroup to repay is about $27 billion worth of trust preferred securities ($7 billion of which is associated with the asset guarantee program Citigroup agreed to last year) and roughly $465 million in warrants associated with its investment, according to David Trone, an analyst at Macquarie Capital.

CEO Vikram Pandit has said that paying back TARP is a priority for the company along with returning to "sustained profitability." Reports have come out recently noting that Citigroup's management is growing frustrated by being restricted from paying back the TARP funds.

At present, the company does not have the resources to buy the preferred stake back and would likely have to raise $6 billion in common equity, Trone estimates, a move that would further dilute shareholders.

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