Credit Suisse cautious on Citigroup due to regulatory hurdles

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Credit Suisse has a note out urging caution on Citigroup shares due to regulatory hurdles.  Their logic bears noting as it can be useful for other U.S.-based banks.

On Monday the CS analysts met with Citi management, who were somewhat cautious. The CS note indicates that regulatory changes in the U.S. are likely to mandate higher capital ratios and this necessarily will constrain returns on capital, not just at Citigroup but elsewhere in banking.

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Another question involved deferred tax assets (DTAs), which I brought up last week. Citi said only $13 billion of the $38 billion in DTAs were counted against Tier 1 capital, meaning any writedowns to capital will have much less affect on Tier 1 capital. About $14 billion in DTAs were related to Citi’s burgeoning loan loss reserves; so the tax losses have not yet been triggered. This may give Citi time to earn money in order to use the DTAs. Again, the key with Citi’s DTAs has to do with how much it earns going forward. If it does not earn enough money, the deferred assets will have to be written down.

In general, banks are now entering a less favourable regulatory environment.  Moreover, in March, many bank stocks were trading below tangible book for the first time since 1990, at the height of the last major credit crunch in the U.S.. After a more than doubling in bank stocks from March lows, this is no longer the case and it will be harder to beat now elevated earnings estimates.

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Meredith Whitney has said she expects the large cap bank stocks to underperform due to some of these hurdles and sees a relative value play in regionals.  However, a lot of CRE and loan construction exposure remains at regionals and the continued seizure of 3 or 4 banks every week by the FDIC points to distress.

I continue to believe upside in bank shares is limited all around.

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