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Citigroup executives see better growth ahead, but not yet

[NEW YORK] Citigroup Inc is still on track to hit its goals for efficiency and revenue growth, executives said on Friday, as analysts pressed them to explain how those expectations line up with second-quarter results.

Although Citigroup beat Wall Street profit expectations, its revenue fell short of forecasts and businesses like branded credit cards and retail banking in Mexico are not yet generating the kind of revenue investors want to see.

During a conference call, chief executive officer Michael Corbat touted progress Citigroup has made toward goals he set last year to grow revenue faster than expenses and return more capital to shareholders.

Although some businesses are not operating at their full potential, management has confidence in longer-term growth prospects, chief financial officer John Gerspach said.

Analysts asked how Citigroup will improve performance without having to spend a lot more on those businesses. Wells Fargo's Mike Mayo, the fourth analyst to bring up a question about costs, wondered whether management would need to spend more on digital banking to attract customers.

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"I don't think there's anything we're going to surprise you with in terms of new investments," said Mr Corbat.

Expenses accounted for 58 per cent of Citigroup's revenue in the second quarter, marking the seventh straight period of improvement, but remained well above the "low-50s" range Mr Corbat wants to reach by 2020.

Since taking the helm almost six years ago, Mr Corbat has struggled to get Citigroup's profit engine humming. The bank has been recovering from the 2007-2009 financial crisis, which left it with a US$45 billion bailout bill, a diluted stock, and an assortment of businesses around the globe.

Mr Corbat set about divesting underperforming businesses and amplifying others worth keeping, but Citigroup is still far less profitable than rivals.

JPMorgan Chase & Co, which also released earnings on Friday, generated a return on assets of 1.28 per cent last quarter compared with 0.94 per cent at Citigroup. JPMorgan's return on common equity was 14 per cent, compared with 9.2 per cent at Citigroup.

Citigroup's share price reflects the difference, trading at 93 per cent of book value, while JPMorgan investors pay 1.6 times what the bank says its assets are worth.

"We expect Citigroup to be a relative underperformer as concerns still linger about long-term revenue growth in the company's cards business," KBW analysts wrote in a report on Friday. "In addition, loan growth missed estimates and that is opposite of what we have seen at peers that have reported today."

Citigroup shares fell 2.3 per cent to close at US$67 on Friday. The stock is down 10 per cent for the year, compared with a 3.0 per cent drop in the S&P 500 Banks index.

Overall, Citigroup's net income rose 16 per cent to US$4.5 billion, or to US$1.63 per share, compared with US$3.9 billion, or US$1.28 per share, in the second quarter of 2017. The boost was driven by lower taxes and more revenue from providing treasury and trade services to corporations, as well as consumer banking.

Analysts had expected Citigroup to report US$1.56 per share in earnings, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose about 2 per cent to US$18.47 billion, slightly below the average expectation of US$18.51 billion. Its loan book grew 5 per cent to US$671 billion from US$641 billion.


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