This column was originally published on RealMoney on July 18 at 12:53 p.m. EDT.
If you want a retail bank, buy
. If you want a credit card company, buy
. If you want a mutual fund company, buy
. If you want a bond trader, buy
. If you want a commercial lender, buy
. If you want a broker, buy
on the low end or
on the high.
There. That's my takeaway from the incredibly confusing, hard-to-fathom
quarter. Not only have the regulators decided that they don't like financial supermarkets, the portfolio managers don't, either. They like
best of breed, and, believe it or not, Citigroup is the mediocre breed in each case, the mongrel, when people want purebred; it's the mutt, when the singular bloodlines are most important.
It wasn't always like this. When the phenomenon of "cross-selling" ruled, when we believed that what mattered the most was the biggest list, the most names, the best target audience, Citigroup stood out. I can recall going to investment conferences in the 1990s and hearing that Citigroup was the only one that had pulled it off, found a way to sell insurance, savings accounts, credit cards and all sorts of other financial services to everyone.
Now we know that's a failure. We have seen, through these scandals, that it can mean selling stuff that shouldn't be sold -- read: jamming stuff down people's throats -- because it isn't good enough. Or getting them to take superfluous services. Or selling them research that is corrupted by banking ties. Or trying to bag people with hidden fees that can no longer be hidden in a world where the Commerce Bancorps break out the fees and give away the ATMs and credit your account on the same day, or where the New York Attorney General's decided to hunt down hidden fees and expose them.
But to sell everything financial off Citigroup's woes is precisely the wrong takeaway. Instead, go buy the best of breed of each individual unit that Citigroup represents. That's where the money is.
You might want to wait a couple of days, though. Going into this morning, the bank group was red-hot, and it
shouldn't have been. That means we could catch some downgrades Tuesday.
By Wednesday, the coast should be clear.
P.S. from TheStreet.com Editor-in-Chief, Dave Morrow:
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At the time of publication, Cramer was long Commerce Bancorp.
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