Citigroup's ( C) CEO Chuck Prince has just played his last card in shuffling Sallie Krawcheck back to her old job. Just days after announcing another round of mediocre earnings, Prince is sending the bank's CFO back to her former nook as head of Citigroup's global wealth management business. The move is no doubt an attempt to appease Wall Street, which has been calling for Krawcheck's head for months. Deep down, Krawcheck is probably relieved too. Given her background as top analyst, she's better suited for managing Citigroup's brokerage firm, private bank and investment research team. Better yet, she no longer will become the lightening rod for criticism of Citigroup's middling financial performance. If nothing else, Prince now has no one else to blame if Citigroup continues to muddle along. Either the bank's earnings improve, or he'll find himself out the door by year's end. For the moment, Wall Street seems to like the move. Shares of Citi rose 44 cents to $54.94 on a day of heavy selling for the broader market. "The company finally appears to be taking measures with regard to the CFO position," writes Mike Mayo, an analyst at Prudential Equity Group. He upgraded the stock. But "if current changes do not result in better performance this year, the CEO's job could be at risk," Mayo cautioned.
Krawcheck's move conveniently spares Prince more time to rejigger the bank's performance. Krawcheck had been originally hired by Sandy Weill in 2002 to head up the Smith Barney business but was promoted to Citi's CFO and head of strategy two years ago. Critics said that while Krawcheck was well liked at the brokerage firm, she was not respected on the Street as Citi's CFO, mostly due to her inexperience in the position. Her move was not surprising, they say. The biggest loser in the Citigroup shake-up is Todd Thomson, who was the CFO prior to Krawcheck's appointment and was widely viewed as a possible successor to Sandy Weill, a job that ultimately Prince got. That move left Thomson in a precarious position. Sources say that he was unhappy in his role as the head of global wealth management and was disliked by Smith Barney brokers for his lack of communication with them. "Citi is not broken here, but things can certainly get better," says Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer for Solaris Asset Management. "
Prince is doing some major shake-ups here. Those changes, especially if people are brought in from the outside, don't happen overnight. I think there is probably a year before more pressure is put on him." With the exception of Citi's recent share rally, the stock has been underperforming its peers for some time, while the company suffered from negative operating leverage -- where its expense growth rose faster than revenue growth. Investors were also becoming increasingly frustrated with the conglomerate's focus on expanding its international business while its domestic retail bank was floundering, particularly as Bank of America ( BAC), JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and Wachovia ( WB) seemed to be making strides, despite the poor banking environment.
The stock had rallied over rumors in mid-December that the bank was planning a big management shake-up or a major change in strategy that might entail the divestitures of certain business units. Investors were speculating at the time that Krawcheck or even Prince himself could be on the way. While there were management changes, they were not the drastic measures that investors seemed to be looking for. Instead, Prince named Robert Druskin, its head of corporate and investment banking, as its new chief operating officer. The company said at the time that it had no plans to break up the company. "Mr. Prince is in strong control of this organization," writes Dick Bove, an analyst at Punk Ziegel. "Suggestions that the board might remove him for non-performance seem a little silly given the fact that he has completely remodeled the executive suite at the company and is now firmly in control.