Citi capital raising hit by FDIC threat

By Francesco Guerrera in New York

Published: June 5 2009 23:00 | Last updated: June 5 2009 23:00

Citigroup had to delay raising $33bn in capital in recent weeks after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation threatened to lower a crucial financial health rating as part of the regulator’s drive to replace Vikram Pandit, chief executive.

People familiar with the situation said the row over the rating with the FDIC has since been defused and Citi could launch the long-awaited conversion of preferred shares into common stock as early as next week.

However, Sheila Bair, the FDIC’s chairman, is believed to remain adamant that Mr Pandit, a former investment banker, and his team should make way for executives with greater experience in commercial banking.

The Financial Times reported in April that the FDIC was discussing possible replacements for Mr Pandit. So far, Ms Bair has failed to persuade other regulators of Citi, such as the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, that Mr Pandit should be replaced.

Citi’s board on Friday reiterated its backing for Mr Pandit and his team.

People close to Citi said a reason for the delay in the conversion was the FDIC’s warning that it was discussing placing the bank on the “problem list” of lenders at greater risk of failure. In heated exchanges with regulators, Citi executives said they could not launch the offer without disclosing the FDIC’s desire to lower its rating.

Citi is converting preferred stock into common shares as part of its efforts to bolster its balance sheet after government stress tests revealed a $5.5bn capital shortfall. The government will own about 34 per cent of Citi after the offering.

The FDIC declined to comment but officials said the delay in Citi’s offering was due to the bank’s own problems and the customary review by regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission. People close to the FDIC said that even if Citi’s financial health rating had been lowered, it would not have had to disclose it because the “problem list” does not contain bank names.

Citi executives, according to people close to the matter, did not want to be in the same position as Bank of America. It has been criticised for waiting to disclose it received billions of dollars in aid to complete its takeover of Merrill Lynch until after the deal closed. BofA says the government told it not to publicise the extra aid.

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