NEW YORK (
CFO John Gerspach inadvertently dismissed a
during a call with fixed income analysts.
Gerspach sounded a bit tense on the call, his first since the
. His answers were clipped in many cases, and he chided one analyst who asked a question he considered long-winded, saying, "that is a hell of a first question, I have to tell you."
Later, a different analyst--Samuel Crawford of Stone Harbor Investment Partners--asked about "some of the equity analysis that has come out over the last -- less than a week," which "reverts to sum-of-the-parts analysis in pretty facile ways... to arrive at the conclusion that Citigroup should be broken up because of conglomerate discount, etc., etc."
Crawford offered that Gerspach "may not have a whole lot of patience for," such analysis, but wanted to know if, nonetheless, management and the board did not periodically "examine this question," of breaking up the bank.
"Actually, Samuel, I'm not familiar with any of equity analysis that you're referring to," Gerspach responded. "I've seen newspaper articles, but I don't confuse newspaper articles with equity or any other type of in depth analysis. But there certainly has been some rehashing in the press about that. However, we look at, you know, strategic options, you know, broadly on a regular basis."
Crawford responded that this was "not quite the same thing."
"Then perhaps I don't understand your question," said Gerspach.
"Do you find a sum-of-the-parts analysis useful in terms of arriving at an internal valuation of Citigroup and whether or not there is a conglomerate discount or a conglomerate premium?" Crawford asked.
"I'm sorry. I thought I addressed that by saying that I haven't seen any of the analysis that you're referring to," Gerspach said, adding that he'd only seen newspaper articles, which "don't really have any analytical basis behind them." As a result, Gerspach said, he "wouldn't find the media articles to be terribly informative."
In a brief interview, however, Crawford confirmed he had been referring to the Oct. 17 upgrade by Mayo. He declined to comment further.
Mayo, a noted bear who has
, did not respond to emailed questions, other than to state that his Oct. 17 upgrade of Citigroup shares to "outperform," was the first time he had recommended the stock since downgrading it from what he called "the equivalent of buy" to "sell" on Oct. 17, 2007.
Via email, a Citigroup spokesman wrote that Gerspach "was asked specifically whether he had read equity analysis calling for the break-up of Citi," adding that the CFO has indeed read Mayo's note, "which does not call for the break-up of Citi."
Mayo's report states Citigroup's new strategy following the appointment of CEO Michael Corbat "could include more aggressive restructuring." He argues Citigroup's "sum-of-the-parts" valuation is $52, and that "even with a conglomerate discount, the stock seems to have upside of 19% to $43."
Citigroup shares closed Thursday at $37.41, up from $36.66 at the time of Mayo's upgrade.
Written by Dan Freed in New York
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