Federal Reserve blocks Citigroup from raising dividends

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday barred Citigroup from raising its dividend or boosting its stock buybacks.
By MARCY GORDON and JOSHUA FREED, Associated Press Published: March 27, 2014
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— The Federal Reserve on Wednesday barred Citigroup from raising its dividend or boosting its stock buybacks, saying it’s too hard to predict how some parts of the bank’s global operation would fare in a sharp economic downturn.

It was a setback for Citigroup Inc., one of the nation’s biggest banks, which has been cutting jobs and trimming some businesses in an effort to improve its finances.

Citi was the biggest of five banks whose plans the Fed rejected as part of its so-called “stress tests,” an annual check-up of the nation’s biggest financial institutions. This year 30 banks underwent the tests to determine if they have large enough capital buffers to keep lending through another financial crisis.

Citi had asked the Fed’s permission to buy back $6.4 billion in shares through the first quarter of next year, and to raise its dividend to 5 cents each quarter, up from a penny per quarter now.

New York-based Citigroup was blocked from raising its dividend in 2012, too, after failing its stress test. Later that year it brought in a new CEO, Mike Corbat, with a mandate to speed up its turnaround.

Corbat said Wednesday that the company is “deeply disappointed” by the Fed decision. The dividend and buyback would have been a “modest level of capital” for shareholders, and Citi still would have exceeded requirements for its financial health, he said in a written statement.

The Fed announcement caused investors to re-assess bank stocks across the board. Citigroup’s stock was down more than 5 percent in after-hours trading.

CLSA analyst Mike Mayo called Citi’s rejection “a shocker.”

“Citi needs to make this defeat into victory by improving the pace of restructuring,” Mayo wrote in a note. That would include selling off businesses and holding managers more accountable, especially after executives had offered reassurances about how the bank is monitoring its finances, Mayo said.