Citigroup ( C) beat fourth-quarter targets Friday, but the stock's fractional decline shows CEO Chuck Prince remains under the microscope.

In the quarter, the New York-based lender's net earnings actually fell 26% to $5.13 billion, or $1.03 a share, from $6.93 billion, or $1.37 a share, in the year ago period. Net earnings fell, in part, because of a series of previously disclosed charges.

At the same time, total revenue at the bank rose 15% in the quarter, to $23.8 billion. Operating earnings, which exclude charges and one-time events, rose 3%.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for earnings of $1.01 a share on revenue of $22.45 billion. Shares fell 43 cents to $53.96.

Prince has been under fire for the past year because Citigroup's stock has lagged and the bank's domestic consumer banking business has shown meager growth. The lawyer-turned-chief-executive-officer has begged investors to give him more time to right Citigroup's ship.

But a big criticism that investors have with the company is its problem with runaway expenses. Last quarter was no exception. Total expenses rose 23% in the fourth quarter to $13.9 billion. Compensation in particular rose 23%, to $7.9 billion.

For the full year, expenses rose 15%, to $52 billion, while total revenue inched just 7% higher, to $89.6 billion.

Citigroup posted big revenue gains in its hedge fund investing business and its investment bank.

Alternative investments had a whopping 79% jump in revenue, to $1.3 billion, during the quarter. Citi says the jump was fueled by strong performances across all proprietary investment products, including private equity, hedge funds and higher client revenues.

Last quarter, Citi raised $3.3 billion for a new private equity fund, it says.

Corporate and investment banking revenue rose 14% to $7.08 billion, fueled by impressive gains in investment banking fees, particularly equity underwriting, and trading. Principal transactions rose 37% from a year earlier, to $1.96 billion.

The fixed income markets also posted positive gains from interest rate and credit products as well as foreign exchange, Citi says.

Revenues from the bank's domestic consumer operation also showed marked improvement, taking in 14% more in revenues to $7.96 billion. But the growth was fueled by its U.S. cards business and the absence of a $545 million pretax charge that it had taken in the prior-year period.

On the retail banking side, Citi still had dismal results. Revenue rose just 2% from a year earlier, to $2.4 billion. The company says that "increased customer business volumes" were "largely offset" by net interest margin compression.

Citi, which has $1.48 trillion in assets, opened 1,165 branches last year, bringing its total to more than 3,000.

Smith Barney, Citi's financial advisory firm, posted a 47% rise in profit, to $305 million. The unit had $9 billion in net new asset flows during the quarter, bringing Smith Barney's total assets under management to $1.2 trillion.

Revenue growth was driven by "a continued shift toward fee-based advisory products and services," Citi says.

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