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Citigroup Plans To Divest Entire Stake In Smith Barney

Speaking at the Barclays Capital Global Financial Services Conference on Sept. 15, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit for the first time announced publicly that he anticipates the bank to divest its entire 49% stake in Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC.

New York-based Citigroup has been among the country’s hardest-hit financial institutions from the credit crisis. Over the past 18 months, the struggling bank – which Richard Shelby, R-Ala., referred to in March as a “problem child” – slashed its assets by $500 billion. As a result of ongoing liquidity concerns, Citigroup has borrowed about $45 billion in taxpayer bail-out money through the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Citi also continues to face mounting legal and financial woes over its alternative investments, including the ASTA/MAT hedge funds. Currently, the funds are at the center of numerous lawsuits and arbitration claims with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) by investors who allege Citigroup misrepresented the products as safe, conservative and stable fixed-income investments. Any losses were projected to be minimal – no more than 5% a year in the worst-case scenario, according to the company.

Instead, ASTA/MAT plummeted in value last summer because of turmoil in the financial markets and housing markets. During the same time the funds were sinking, however, Citigroup allegedly told investors to “stay the course” and that ASTA/MAT would rebound once the markets stabilized.

That didn’t happen. As it turns out, the ASTA/MAT funds were highly leveraged, borrowing approximately $8 for every $1 raised. Meanwhile, the managers ASTA/MAT continued to invest in some of the most risky and speculative investments possible.

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