Sandy's Smile: Citigroup Finds a Way - TheStreet

The resilience of the consumer has been reflected in all kinds of economic statistics over the past few months. Now, despite a year of recession and political turmoil that took a big toll on the rest of Wall Street, consumer resilience also can be credited with salvaging

Citigroup's

(C) - Get Report

bottom line.

In a conference call, the financial services conglomerate said it expects "mid-double-digit" profit increases in the consumer business in 2002.

Citigroup posted a fourth-quarter profit of $3.86 billion, or 74 cents a share, excluding charges, compared with $3.33 billion, or 65 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Thomson Financial/First Call had called for earnings of 73 cents.

Including merger and restructuring charges, the firm earned $3.88 billion, compared with $2.84 billion last year.

Citigroup's strong performance came despite a $228 million charge related to the

Enron

debacle and a

$470 million hit from Argentina, which defaulted on loans and devalued its currency.

The results were aided by a 20% jump in profits in the company's consumer lines, as low interest rates fueled a boom in credit card loans and mortgage refinancing.

"That was a big driver," noted Putnam Lovell Securities analyst Chris Allen. "We were pleased with the company's ability to grow earnings double-digits from last year and absorb costs from Enron and Argentina."

Hardship

In a statement, CEO Sandy Weill, said last year was "difficult" because of the events of Sept. 11, the global slowdown and unusually volatile markets.

"Citigroup has not been immune from these problems," he said. "In fact, we absorbed $1.8 billion in reduced revenue, higher losses and increased provisions as a result of Sept. 11, Enron and Argentina, and still achieved record results in 2001."

Indeed, the firm's fourth-quarter revenue rose 12% year-over-year to $22 billion, which was $1 billion above analysts' expectations.

At Citigroup's emerging-markets business, profits rose 21% to $3.2 billion. Citigroup bought Mexico's biggest bank, Grupo Financiero Banamex-Accival (Banamex), last year.

"Investment banking also did very well," noted Allen. "We thought they would take a hit on M&A and underwriting but that was up too."

Profits at the firm's Salomon Smith Barney investment banking unit rose 17%, while at the firm's global corporate division, which includes its investment and corporate banking business, profits rose 4% to $1.32 billion.

A rally in the stock market late last year helped boost earnings at some financial institutions as trading activity picked up.

Bank stocks were mostly higher Thursday, with Citigroup lately up 1% to $50.05.

J.P. Morgan Chase

(JPM) - Get Report

, which posted earnings Wednesday, was up 1% to $36.79, and

Wells Fargo

(WFC) - Get Report

added 0.6% to $45.52. Still,

Bank of New York

(BK) - Get Report

fell 0.9% to $43.19 after posting an 11% drop in quarterly profits to $331 million, or 45 cents a share, as bankruptcies and problem loans weighed on its bottom line.