Government plans massive Citigroup rescue
WASHINGTON — Rushing to rescue Citigroup, the government has agreed to shoulder hundreds of billions of dollars in possible losses at the stricken bank and to plow a fresh $20 billion into the company.
Regulators hope the dramatic action will bolster badly shaken confidence in the once-mighty banking giant as well as in the nation’s financial system, a goal that so far has been elusive despite a flurry of government interventions to battle the worst global crisis since the 1930s.
Wall Street appeared encouraged as stock futures moved higher ahead of the market opening in New York. Dow Jones industrial average futures rose almost 2 percent. Stock markets in Britain and Germany gained more than 4 percent in afternoon trading. Citigroup shares themselves climbed 44 percent to $5.64 in premarket trading.
The action, announced late Sunday by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., is aimed at shoring up a huge financial institution whose collapse would wreak havoc on the already fragile financial system and the U.S. economy.
"With these transactions, the U.S. government is taking the actions necessary to strengthen the financial system and protect U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. economy," the three agencies said in a joint statement.
Analysts said a Citigroup failure would have seized up still fragile lending markets and caused untold losses among institutions holding debt and financial products backed by the company.
"It would create chaos," said Winson Fong, managing director at SG Asset Management in Hong Kong, which oversees about $3 billion in equities in Asia. "Simply put, you couldn’t borrow or lend for a while. This is a nightmare scenario."
The bold move is the latest in a string of high-profile government bailout efforts. The Fed in March provided financial backing to JPMorgan Chase’s buyout of ailing Bear Stearns. Six months later, the government was forced to take over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and throw a financial lifeline — which was recently rejiggered — to insurer American International Group.
Critics worry the actions could put billions of taxpayers’ dollars in jeopardy and encourage financial companies to take excessive risk on the belief that the government will bail them out of their messes.
The $20 billion cash injection by the Treasury Department will come from the $700 billion financial bailout package. The capital infusion follows an earlier one — of $25 billion — in Citigroup in which the government also received an ownership stake.
As part of the plan, Treasury and the FDIC will guarantee against the "possibility of unusually large losses" on up to $306 billion of risky loans and securities backed by commercial and residential mortgages.
Citigroup will assume the first $29 billion in losses on the risky pool of assets. Beyond that amount, the government would absorb 90 percent of the remaining losses, and Citigroup 10 percent. Money from the $700 billion bailout and funds from the FDIC would cover the government’s portion of potential losses.
In exchange for the guarantees, the government will get $7 billion in preferred shares of Citigroup. In addition, Citi said it will issue warrants to the U.S. Treasury and the FDIC for approximately 254 million shares of the company’s common stock at a strike price of $10.61.