Pandit rejects calls to break up Citigroup

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Vikram Pandit, the chief executive of Citigroup, has launched a robust defence of the banking and investment conglomerate, saying it was well placed to become as major a force in developing markets as it is in the US.

Revealing the progress of his review of the company, five months after being promoted to the top job, Mr Pandit dismissed Wall Street calls to break up the group, but he did announce a dramatic programme to sell or wind down its least profitable businesses.

He labelled 22 per cent of the company's activities as "non-core" and said it would shed assets worth between $400bn and $500bn. He also promised $15bn in annual cost savings, raising the spectre of more job cuts across the 370,000-strong workforce.

The business is reeling from $40bn of losses in the mortgage market since the start of the credit crisis last summer, and Mr Pandit has come under fire from what critics say is a lacklustre and directionless start to his leadership.

Yesterday, at a meeting with investors and Wall Street analysts at Citigroup's Manhattan headquarters, Mr Pandit warned that it would take time and require patience to restructure the business.

"Stage one is getting fit, focusing on exiting legacy assets, focusing on returns, managing risk and re-engineering the cost base, but there are two more stages," he said, adding that individual businesses would be restructured and then managers told to examine what Citigroup as a whole can do for its clients.

Citigroup spans retail banking, wealth management and investment banking, having been assembled through a string of acquisitions in the Nineties. The problem was not that the businesses did not fit together, but that the acquisitions were never properly integrated, Mr Pandit said.

A full-service financial firm is the best way to win clients in emerging markets, he said. "We are in 106 countries and we believe the right model is a global, universal bank. It is fundamentally different to a conglomerate or a 'financial supermarket'. It is the only model that creates value in emerging markets that have less developed financial markets."

Henry Asher, president of the fund manager Northstar, said of Citi: "It's too big for management to get their hands around. No one could possibly go into that situation and quickly and completely understand all the nuances of such a sprawling business."