'Enormous progress' as bank loses £4.7bn

US banking giant Citigroup reported a full-year loss today but hailed "enormous progress in 2009".

Citi, which employs 9,000 staff in the UK, posted an annual net loss of 1.6 billion US dollars (£980 million), down from 27.7 billion dollars (£16.9 billion) in 2008.

The bank said employee pay and benefit expenses were down 20% compared to the previous year, to 25 billion dollars (£15.3 billion) - although it has reduced its direct headcount by almost 100,000 since the start of 2008.

In the second major banking report from Wall Street this month, the firm said it had repaid 20 billion dollars of loans that it received from the US government.

Citi's losses for the fourth quarter were 7.6 billion dollars (£4.7 billion), including the government payback.

Citi was hit hard by the credit crisis and recession, receiving 45 billion dollars (£27.5 billion) in bailout money.

It raised the 20 billion dollars in new capital during the fourth quarter to repay bailout funds.

Meanwhile the US government converted 25 billion (£15.3 billion) of the bailout money into a 34% stake in the bank and it said last month it would sell its shares over the next year.

Citi has failed to see the upswing enjoyed by some of its rivals, who have ridden a wave of better investment banking results, helping them offset their losses from bad loans.

Its report is the latest in a run of Wall Street big hitters to report results as the major US players reveal how they fared in the year after the Lehman Brothers collapse.

Last week, JP Morgan Chase produced forecast-beating results showing profits more than doubling to 11.7 billion US dollars (£7.2 billion).

But public focus is on bonus plans, with significant payouts risking outrage from taxpayers who helped prop up the industry during the financial crisis.

President Barack Obama has set out plans to claw back 90 billion US dollars (£55 billion) in taxes over 10 years and attacked "obscene" payouts, promising to retrieve "every dime" for the taxpayer.

In the UK there is now a 50% windfall tax on bonuses over £25,000 and major City firms are thought to be gearing up to absorb all or part of the cost of the tax.

This could mean Chancellor Alistair Darling is able to rake in more than the £500 million currently predicted.

Chief executive Vikram Pandit said: "We have made enormous progress in 2009.

"It was our responsibility to get our own house in order. We greatly improved Citi's capital strength, reduced the size and scope of the company, and refocused our business strategy to take advantage of our unmatched global network."

Citi said without the government loan repayment it would have made a net loss in the fourth quarter of 1.4 billion dollars (£857 million).

The New York-based company, which counts the online bank Egg among its stable of brands, set aside 8.18 billion dollars (£5 billion) to cover soured loans during the fourth quarter.

But the firm said its provision for loan losses declined 10% from the previous quarter and 36% from a year earlier at the peak of the credit crisis.

Chief financial officer John Gerspach said the environment "continues to be challenging".

"Although we remain cautious and continue to monitor the future impacts of our current loss mitigation efforts, we continue to see indications that credit may be stabilising or improving, particularly in Asia and Latin America," he added.

Citi tried to reorganise and streamline its operations in 2009 as it struggled to return to consistent profitability.

This included splitting the business into two units, Citicorp and Citigroup Holdings.

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