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Wall Street Thinks Pandit's New Plans Won't Fix Citigroup's Old Problems: Street Whispers

Updated to reflect outcome of investor poll in the fourth paragraph.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Citigroup (C - Get Report) chief executive Vikram Pandit likes to preach the bank's bright growth prospects in emerging markets, international business transactions and mobile payments as it recovers from the financial crisis.

Unfortunately, Wall Street investors are skeptical on Pandit's growth gospel and instead remain worried about balance sheet and legacy financial crisis issues still holding back the nation's third largest bank.

The divergence in Citigroup's growth outlook and lingering balance sheet uncertainties from its near collapse in 2008 are highlighted in CEO Pandit's presentation at Monday's Barclays Global Financial Services Conference. Analysts at the meeting continued to ask nagging questions around Citigroup's continued divestiture of what was $850 billion in "non-core assets" and uncertainty surrounding its balance sheet.

At the Barclays conference on Monday a poll of investors and analysts signaled that 36% of attendees held, or were looking to buy Citigroup's stock, tops among a choice of large cap banks like it Bank of America (BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM).

But a second poll done by Barclays banking analyst Jason Goldberg at the end of CEO Pandit's presentation showed that the main uncertainty investors would like resolved are legacy losses at CitiHoldings, a unit of "non-core assets" that Citigroup has been working to sell and run-off since the crisis.

Twenty nine percent of investors polled highlighted CitiHoldings as a top concern. Those fears outweighed the European debt crisis, uncertainty surrounding Citi's near $50 billion deferred tax asset, dividends, and trends in its ongoing investment banking and emerging market operations.

In between the polls, Pandit made a forceful case to investors that Citigroup has moved past the crisis, selling off roughly $600 billion in CitiHoldings assets, while reinvesting in emerging market lending, transaction services and mobile payments growth opportunities, among others.

"As a result of the changes we've made over the past four years, Citigroup today is a simpler, smaller, safer, stronger organization than it was when I became CEO in December 2007 and we believe we're firmly positioned for a sustainable earnings and responsible growth," said Pandit at the conference. He highlighted Citigroup's exposure to emerging markets as highlights, while pointing out legacy CitiHoldings mortgage losses and legal costs have fallen sharply.

"[Citicorp] in 2011 looked much, much like the Citicorp of 1997 premerger with a comparable mix of consumer institutional banking businesses and a diversified global footprint," noted Pandit, of the bank's asset sales and withdrawal from a financial supermarket model that was seen as a key reason for its near failure in 2008.

The problem for Pandit is while he may be right about Citigroup's growth prospects and has been steadfast in the dissolution of CitiHoldings, the bank still carries a giant legacy of uncertainty from the crisis. Those burdens, mainly capital and balance sheet issues, are also highlighted in Tuesday's appraisal of Citigroup's stake in Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MSSB) at $8.5 billion below Citi's valuation.

As a result of the valuation, Citigroup said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Comission it will take a $2.9 billion after-tax loss related to MSSB in third quarter earnings. That loss will provide a small hit to Citigroup's Basel I capital ratios but boost Basell III ratios slightly, the bank said.
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