WSJ reports tonight that Citigroup executives are looking into the possibility of selling the financial giant or auctioning off pieces. This could be a fast-moving story, what with the disastrous stock declines of the past two days. It's not just the stock price, which has fallen below $5 a share, but the betting among options traders that shares could fall even further. Of course, there's also action for $7.50 calls.
The internal discussions are at a preliminary stage and don't signal that Citigroup's board and management are backing down from their insistence that the New York company has ample capital, funding and strategic direction, these people said. But with the stock down another 26% Thursday, its worst one-day percentage decline ever, Citigroup officials have decided they need to reckon with a range of scenarios that were unthinkable only weeks ago. Citigroup's board of directors is scheduled to have a formal meeting Friday to discuss the options, according to a people familiar with the situation. Meantime, directors have been talking by phone about what could be done to reverse the stock's slide.
Executives in recent days have been telling traders, brokers and other employees to reach out to clients and tick off a list of factors that showcase Citigroup's strength. On Thursday, for instance, executives in the wealth-management unit arranged a Friday-afternoon conference call for clients. A brochure that brokers were asked to share with clients promises that the call "will help you to better understand the current financial crisis." The sell-off in Citigroup shares has led executives to start laying out possible contingency plans. In addition to pondering a move to sell the entire company to another bank, executives have started exploring the possibility of selling off parts of the firm, including the Smith Barney retail brokerage, the global credit-card division and the transaction-services unit, which is one of Citigroup's most lucrative and fast-growing businesses, the people said.
What must concern Citi executives is the way these downdrafts can take on a life of their own. The other imponderable is how the government might respond to the situation.