RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And the biggest U.S. financial services company, Citigroup, will pull back the curtain on its troubled finances today. The company is expected to say later this morning how much it made during the last three months of the year, and the picture is not likely to be pretty. Citigroup has already acknowledged billions of dollars in losses in the subprime mortgage meltdown, and the company is appealing to foreign investors for new capital.
NPR's Jim Zarroli joins us now to talk more about that. Good morning.
JIM ZARROLI: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: What are people expecting Citigroup to say today?
ZARROLI: Well, this is a day of reckoning for Citigroup. It's going to say how much money it made last quarter. It's also going to give us the latest estimate of how much it lost in the subprime mortgage crisis. And, you know, the estimates are anywhere from $11 billion to $20 billion, maybe even more. It's also going to try to answer the big question that a lot of shareholders have right now, which is how is the company going to get out of this mess. It could announce some job cuts, maybe a lot. There could be a dividend cut. And we, finally, may hear something about Citigroup's capital plans. It's been looking for outside investors. You may remember it got $7.5 billion from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority last year. So we may see another announcement like that.
MONTAGNE: Jim, remind us how a huge company like Citigroup got into a position where it needs to raise so much money from overseas investors.
ZARROLI: Well, one of the important things is that you have to remember Citigroup is basically a big commercial bank, even though it does a lot of other things. It's still a commercial bank. The federal government says that big commercial banks can do a lot of things like issue loans, but they have to keep a certain amount of capital on reserve to back them up.
Now, for a long time, Citigroup has been using the money it has for mergers, for stock buybacks, for lots of different things and it basically kept the minimum amount of reserves on hand. So when these mortgages losses started coming in, it didn't have a lot of wiggle room. So it had to raise money to keep the regulators happy.
Now, how does it do that? Well, it could sell something. It has a lot to sell like its Smith Barney unit. But at this time, it might get nothing but fire-sale prices. So the other option it has is to look for investors and, you know, a lot of the investors with money to play with right now are in the Middle East. They're in Asia, especially in China. So that's where Citigroup is going.
MONTAGNE: Well, how much money does Citigroup need to get its house in order?
ZARROLI: Yeah, I'm sure Citigroup would love to know the answer to that question. It's just kind of in the nature of this subprime crisis that it is hard to get a handle on what the losses really are for several reasons. You may remember that Citigroup's Chairman Charles Prince encountered some job security problems last year. He was sort of forced out of office. And that happened partly because he had understated the size of the company's losses. First, he said it was $6.5 billion, then he said, no, it was 8 billion. So people lost confidence in him. Now, of course, it looks like the losses could be a lot bigger than that. Like, there's been much as $20 billion.
MONTAGNE: All of which sounds terribly serious. On the other hand, this is a huge company, huge bank. But how serious is it?
ZARROLI: Well, yes, I mean, Citigroup has enormous assets. It's - you know, this isn't - it's not like one of those big mortgage companies where there were questions about its saliency. That's not the case. But it does have problems. And, you know, it has these subprime problems. And then, you know, we're going into a slowing economy, and Citigroup makes a lot of money in consumer banking. So if consumers stop taking out all their loans, if they stop taking out, you know, student loans, this is a company that's going to have a lot of trouble. So that's going to compound its problems.
MONTAGNE: And are we likely to see beyond Citigroup similar problems at other big financial companies?
ZARROLI: Yeah. Merrill Lynch reports earnings on Thursday. That's - have some similar problems. That's a brokerage company so it doesn't have the same capital requirements, but it still has potential problems. There's also a lot of speculation about some of the big mortgage lenders like Washington Mutual. So, yeah, we could see more problems.
MONTAGNE: Jim, thanks very much.
ZARROLI: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Jim Zarroli.
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