Citigroup: Financial Winner

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Citigroup ( C) was the winner among the largest U.S. financial companies on Wednesday, with shares rising over 2% to close at $34.06.

Despite the drag placed on the market by another dismal earnings warning from Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) CEO Meg Whitman, who discussed the company's turnaround plan with analysts, the broad indexes advanced after the Institute for Supply Management reported that "economic activity in the non-manufacturing sector grew in September for the 33rd consecutive month."

The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index reading for September was 59.9, increasing from 55.6 in August.

The KBW Bank Index ( I:BKX) was up over 1% to close at 50.45, with all but three of the 24 index components showing gains for the session.

Citigroup's shares have now returned 30% year-to-date, following a 44% decline during 2011.

The shares trade for 0.7 times their reported June 30 tangible book value of $51.81, and for 7.5 times the consensus 2013 earnings estimate of $4.53, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. The consensus 2012 EPS estimate is $4.09.

The company is slated to report its third-quarter results on Oct. 15, with the consensus among analysts being a profit of 97 cents a share, compared to EPS of a dollar the previous quarter, and $1.23 a year earlier.

KBW analyst David Konrad on Tuesday upgraded Citi to an outperform rating from market perform, and raised his price target for the shares to $44 from $40, saying that even though the stock appeared "cheap" at 64% of tangible book value and 7.8 times his 2013 earnings estimate, the "primary drivers" of the upgrade included "1) expectations for continued run-off of Citi Holdings following QE3; 2) improving Basel III capital ratio; 3) expectations for capital deployment in 2013; and 4) expectations for continued market share gains in global trade finance."

Konrad left his third-quarter EPS estimate for Citi unchanged at 89 cents, but raised full-year 2012 estimate by a nickel to $3.79, and his 2013 estimate to $4.25 from $4.10, "largely due to our increased assumptions for the speed of Citi Holdings run-off assets."

The analyst said that "the execution of Citi's strategic plan, recent visibility of earnings, and growth in global payments have been recent drivers in the company's performance. In addition, we believe the economic backdrop may put Citi in a comparative advantage to reduce Citi Holding assets and enable the return on assets of Citicorp to begin to more meaningfully contribute to the consolidated earnings."

Citi Holdings is the subsidiary holding the assets that Citigroup has placed in runoff mode, as part of CEO Vikram Pandit's long-term "good bank/bad bank" strategy to right-size the company's balance sheet.

Konrad said it was "understandable for investors to want to take gains in stocks given uncertainty this fall with elections, fiscal cliff, and European economy," but Konrad sees greater upside for Citigroup, as QE3 -- the Federal Reserve's increase of its purchasing of long-term mortgage-backed securities by $40 billion a month to roughly $85 billion a month, in an effort to continue pushing down long-term rates "may only enhance the ability to sell assets with Fed providing liquidity and pushing down yields and attempting to increase investors' appetite to move up the risk curve."

Citigroup's long-term shareholders are eager to see the company begin deploying excess capital. Following the Federal Reserve's annual round of large-bank stress tests during the first quarter of 2013, Konrad expects the company to be approved to raise its quarterly dividend from a penny a share to 25 cents, and also to buy back "approximately $4.5 billion" worth of common shares.

C Chart C data by YCharts

Interested in more on Citigroup? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.

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-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

>Contact by Email.

Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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