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TheStreet Open House

Analyst: Citi Is Untrustworthy

Stocks in this article: C

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The spat between Citigroup (C) and CLSA analyst Mike Mayo continues. This time the veteran bank equity analyst is calling foul on the issue of "trust" when it comes to the bank's management team.

"While Citigroup has positives, such as better capital markets, improving credit and emerging market positions, our concern around trust reflects a long-term consideration," Mayo told clients in a research note Monday.

Mayo's concerns are related to Citigroup's strategy and execution, including "optimistic" financial targets of 5% asset growth, which he found cited in a March presentation packet, especially when "so much of the past problems stem from excessive asset growth." He also noted the company's return on asset targets of 1.25%-1.50% are "well above historical levels."

He also cited aggressive accounting, in particular the company's treatment of its massive deferred tax assets, and a corporate culture with a history of "underperforming" when it comes to risk management.

"We believe Citi is a 'trust me' story that must overcome a history of poor risk management practices that led to its problems over the last decade," Mayo wrote. "However, the company's efforts to regain trust today are held back by accounting financial targets and risk management, in our view."

The ongoing issues between Mayo and Citigroup are twofold.

First, Mayo takes umbrage with Citigroup's treatment of its $50 billion in deferred tax assets, an amount that he noted is "more than twice as large as any other U.S. corporation and the largest as a percentage of tangible equity among large banks (39%)" in Monday's research note.

Mayo insists the bank needs to take a writedown related to the assets, but Citigroup has not done so so far. In past reports, he has estimated the writedown should be as high as $10 billion.

Secondly, Mayo is upset that Citigroup's management, including CEO Vikram Pandit and CFO John Gerspach, have not granted him a private meeting in "about 21 months."

"The only other time in the last decade when we have had such lack of access was with Citigroup in 2001-2002, when we were similiarly critical of the company," Mayo wrote. "Our thinking is based on a simple observation: If management does not want hear a critical external voice, why should we think this same management team will listen to critical internal voices?"

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