Citigroup Investors Have to Be Patient, KBW Says

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Citigroup ( C) shares offer the best restructuring opportunity among large-cap financials over the next three to five years, KBW analysts said in a report released Tuesday.

The analysts said the new management led by Chairman Michael O'Neill and CEO Michael Corbat will allocate capital more efficiently across businesses, boosting returns to shareholders.

But "investors will need to be patient to reap rewards" on the shares, the analysts, headed by Fred Cannon, said. "The restructuring of a $1.8 trillion global bank takes time."

Cannon is taking over coverage of Citigroup from David Konrad following KBW's merger with Stifel Financial in February. He has a price target of $55 on the stock.

Shares of Citigroup have gained 33% over one year as housing has recovered, easing balance-sheet concerns. Hopes that the bank will return more capital and resize its business under Mike Corbat, who replaced Vikram Pandit in late 2012, have also lifted the stock.

On the former, however, investors may need to tone down their expectations. The analysts believe Citigroup's management will likely play it safe this year when they make their capital return request to the Federal Reserve this year after 2012's embarrassing rejection.

In recent presentations to investors, management has indicated that it is mostly focused on ensuring the bank passed the regulator's annual test and meeting new capital standards.

"We believe capital return, which will be critical to the Citigroup story, will be a 2014-and-beyond event," the analysts said.

As for restructuring businesses, Cannon notes that Citi has some very profitable businesses, particularly its consumer banking business in North America and Latin America and its transaction processing business. Its securities and banking business, on the other hand, is an underperformer.

Yet Citi seems to be misallocating its capital currently. The report notes that the bank has been investing in the derivatives business, which will likely have lower returns under a new regulatory environment and which other banks have exited.

The bank also is not investing enough in the North American Consumer Business. While credit cards have been a highly profitable business, the bank's market share is slipping in this segment, dropping from 22.2% in the third quarter of 2010 to 21.2% in the third quarter of 2012.

"We believe that Citibank offers current management ample opportunities to realign its capital investments to enhance returns meaningfully."

-- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York

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