Citigroup, Morgan Stanley to merge brokerages

/ Source: The Associated Press

Citigroup Inc. and Morgan Stanley agreed Tuesday to combine their brokerages in a deal that shows how much Citigroup wants to slim down and build up cash.

Morgan Stanley is paying Citigroup $2.7 billion for a 51 percent stake in the joint venture. Citigroup will have a 49 percent stake.

Citigroup’s retail brokerage, Smith Barney, was once the crown jewel in its wealth management business.

The new unit, to be called Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, will have more than 20,000 advisors, $1.7 trillion in client assets; and serve 6.8 million households around the world, the companies said.

Citigroup will recognize a pretax gain of about $9.5 billion because of the deal, or about $5.8 billion after taxes, the companies said. The joint venture is expected to achieve total cost savings for the two companies of around $1.1 billion.

The deal was announced after the market closed. Shares of Citigroup rose 30 cents, or 5.4 percent, to $5.90 on Tuesday, and Morgan Stanley shares rose 7 cents to $18.86.

CEO Vikram Pandit has been saying for months that he plans to sell assets to raise cash, but the executive, according to media reports, is getting ready to announce that Citigroup is abandoning the financial “supermarket” model. That term described the aim of Citigroup — created over the last couple decades by former CEO Sandy Weill — to service all of individuals’ and businesses’ financial needs, from saving to borrowing to investing to deal-making.

Citigroup has fared worse than other banks in recent years, particularly during the recent credit crisis. The New York-based company is expected to post a fifth straight quarterly loss next week. The government has already lent it $45 billion — more than other large banks received — and agreed to absorb losses on a huge pool of Citigroup’s mortgages and other soured assets.

Some investors believe Citigroup is headed for a larger-scale breakup now that the government is involved and that President-elect Barack Obama is rethinking how to dole out the remaining $350 billion of bailout money.

The new administration could “come to the realization that the whole economy does not hinge on the banks,” said Octavio Marenzi, head of financial consultancy Celent. “Banking is important. The banks themselves are not.”

William Smith of Smith Asset Management, who still owns shares of Citigroup, has been calling for a breakup of Citigroup for years and believes the government will force that fate, in piecemeal fashion, over the coming year.

“I think within 12 months, Citigroup no longer exists,” Smith said. ”The new CEO of this company is the government.”