Citigroup sets new focus on growth at first investor day since crisis

citiNEW YORK (Reuters) – Citigroup Inc management outlined an ambitious plan on Tuesday to grow profits and return at least US$60 billion to shareholders, setting a new tone at the first major conference the bank has held for investors in over nine years.

Executives detailed ways they intend to generate more revenue, cut unnecessary costs, use capital more wisely and get back to building businesses after a long period of divestitures.

They described the plan as a sign Citigroup has finally regained its footing after the 2007-09 financial crisis, when it needed three bailouts to survive, and acknowledged investors had reason to be frustrated after Citigroup missed previous targets.

“We haven’t yet delivered the level of returns that you, our investors, both expect and deserve,” Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat said at the start of the event. “You have been patient with us. And I want you to know that we don’t take that patience for granted and we don’t think it is inexhaustible.”

Citigroup shares closed up 2.9%, at US$68.03. The stock, up 14% this year, has lately been trading at levels not seen since December 2008.

Since the crisis, Citigroup has shrunk significantly, selling and closing businesses around the world. Once the largest US bank by assets, it has slipped to fourth place.

But executives at the event said they intend to grow businesses ranging from stock trading to Mexican consumer banking, while making operations more efficient and shrinking the number of outstanding shares.

By 2020, Citigroup should be able to generate US$9 per share in profit, up 80% from the US$5 per share it has produced over the past 12 months, Chief Financial Officer John Gerspach said in a presentation.

About half of that forecast is based on an expectation that Citigroup will be able to buy back more stock. Another 40% comes from expected performance of underlying businesses, with just 10% coming from rising interest rates.

As Citigroup becomes more profitable, executives also expect higher returns on equity, a measure watched closely by Wall Street to judge how well a bank uses shareholder money.

By 2019, Citigroup should be able to produce a 10% return on common tangible equity, rising to 11% in 2020 and 14% over the longer term, executives said.

Evercore ISI analyst Glenn Schorr characterized the bank’s forecasts as not only better than expected, but “credible.”

“We think investors will be happy,” he wrote in a note to clients.

“Big number”

Citigroup invited about 250 analysts and investors to the investor day, its first since May 2008.

Attendees said they were encouraged by the new targets, in part because they relied on improvements in underlying businesses.

Jamie Forese, who heads Citigroup’s institutional businesses, detailed plans to pick up market share in equities trading and investment banking. Stephen Bird, who runs global consumer banking, expects strong growth in Mexico, where Citigroup has a large retail business.

Management’s plan to return at least US$60 billion to shareholders through 2020 also signaled confidence that Citi has resolved issues that led the US Federal Reserve to reject its capital plans in the past, analysts said.

Last month, Citi passed the Fed’s annual stress tests, allowing it to boost stock buybacks and dividends so much that it will reduce its capital for the first time since the crisis.

“Over $60 billion over three years is a big number,” Barclays analyst Jason Goldberg said in an interview.

Citigroup is still some distance from its new targets, and far behind some rivals.

During the first half of this year, Citi generated an 8.2% return on tangible common equity, compared with 14% at JPMorgan Chase & Co. Analysts generally like to see minimum returns of 10 percent, which Corbat had intended to reach in 2015 but did not.

Still, Goldberg said the targets “are not easy, but are doable,” as long as market and economic conditions do not deteriorate.