Citigroup’s underdogs save quarter as bond, card engines sputter

It was a moment for Citigroup’s overlooked Wall Street divisions to show what they can do.

The firm’s stock traders and investment bankers, usually overshadowed by rivals’ larger franchises, trounced analyst estimates in the second quarter and made up for weaknesses in Citigroup’s much bigger fixed-income and credit card divisions. The surprise showing, and a release in reserves set aside for souring loans, helped the lender beat revenue and profit estimates in the period.

The results were the first under new CEO Jane Fraser and hinted at progress after the bank reorganized its equities unit under Fater Belbachir in a bid to become a top-four competitor in that business. The firm generated more than $1 billion from equities trading for a second straight period, the first time that’s happened since 2009.

“The pace of the global recovery is exceeding earlier expectations,” Fraser said Wednesday in a news release announcing earnings. “We saw this across our businesses, as reflected in our performance in investment banking and equities.”

Net income jumped nearly sixfold to $6.19 billion, beating the $4.67 billion average analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg as the firm released $2.4 billion in reserves.

Citigroup’s results broadly mirrored trends across the industry. Most trading desks are cooling as last year’s market swings subside, but dealmakers are still busy helping corporations adjust strategies or finances. Consumers are spending more on cards, but the question is whether they will start to borrow more too.

At Citigroup, the 37% jump in revenue from stock trading was an outlier. It was better than the 33% and 13% increase at Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase respectively, and contrasted the 12% slump at Goldman Sachs.

Citigroup, though, is known for its massive fixed-income trading division, where revenue slumped 43% to $3.21 billion from a year earlier, when pandemic-induced swings in volatility boosted results. While that was worse than analysts anticipated, it was in line with declines at JPMorgan and Goldman.

Fees from investment banking edged up to $1.77 billion, more than the $1.64 billion average of analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg, with the firm citing jumps in fees from equity underwriting and advisory.

The world’s largest credit-card issuer, Citigroup saw revenue from that business drop 11% to $4.02 billion as consumers paid off balances. While spending on Citigroup cards increased 40% as the U.S. economy rebounded from year-earlier lockdowns, arch-rival JPMorgan saw a 51% jump.

Fraser, the first woman to run a U.S. banking giant, began reshaping its strategy as she prepared to take the helm in March. Citigroup has already announced this year that it will exit retail banking operations in 13 markets across Asia and Europe and will instead focus on building out its newly formed wealth division.

Fraser has warned her bank will have to spend more on its underlying technology as it seeks to satisfy a pair of consent orders it received from regulators last year. In the second quarter, expenses climbed 7% to $11.19 billion, less than the $11.3 billion average of analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

“We are making progress on our strategy refresh across our consumer and institutional businesses,” Fraser said in the statement. “Our overarching goal is to increase the returns we generate and close the gap with our peers. We have set out to modernize our bank and want to achieve nothing less than excellence in our risk and control environment, our operations and our service to clients.”

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