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« Ex-Citi Chmn Complains About Dodd-Frank From His Winery In Tuscany | Main | SAYONARA: Whalen & Bair Spank Goodbye To Pandit »

How Citigroup Unraveled On Tim Geithner's Watch

Tim Geithner

A look back at Geithner's personal failure as Citigroup's top regulator.


Pro Publica

By Jeff Gerth

As president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Timothy Geithner often preached that gargantuan financial firms like Citigroup should be held to the highest regulatory standards to make sure they couldn't take on too much risk.

But when it came to supervising Citigroup in recent years, the record shows that the New York Fed eased the reins as the company blew billions on subprime mortgages and other risky deals that ultimately forced the biggest bank rescue in U.S. history.

Now, the 47-year-old Geithner heads to the Senate in coming days as President-elect Barack Obama's nominee for Treasury secretary. He's won accolades for his expertise and work ethic, but there's been little attention to his record as a Fed watchdog.

Geithner's tenure at the New York Fed – which bore the major responsibility for supervising Citigroup – covers a tumultuous span in which the sprawling conglomerate spiraled from the country's biggest banking company to one of its largest welfare cases.

Now under much closer government supervision – after a $52 billion rescue – Citigroup appears headed for dismantling amid a leadership shuffle that included last week's announced departure of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin as senior counselor and director.

Should the New York Fed have seen trouble coming and prevented it? As Citigroup took on risk and its capital deteriorated, what oversight did Geithner exercise? And what contacts, if any, did Geithner have about regulatory matters with Citigroup officials, including Rubin, under whom Geithner worked at Treasury in the 1990s?

All are issues that may come up when Geithner appears before members of the Senate Finance Committee at his confirmation hearing, which has been put off until the day after Tuesday’s inauguration amid questions about Geithner’s taxes and past employment of a housekeeper.

Because the Fed conducts much of its work in secret, details about Geithner's role in the Citigroup debacle remain hidden. But a review of publicly available records shows that the New York Fed, in a key period, relaxed oversight as Citigroup went on a risky spree.

Geithner, following practice common among Cabinet nominees with pending confirmation hearings, declined an interview for this story. Neither the New York Fed nor Rubin responded to written questions about Citigroup.

The New York Fed's supervisory unit reports directly to the bank president, Geithner. The unit's job is to ensure that firms manage risk and have enough capital to cushion against losses. Large companies tend to be held to more stringent capital standards.

Yet poor risk management and weak capital levels were central to Citigroup's undoing. One enforcement agreement in place before Geithner took office in 2003 – an order requiring quarterly risk reports – was lifted during his watch. A ban on major acquisitions also was eliminated a year after it had been imposed in 2005.

Afterward, in 2006 and 2007, Citigroup aggressively expanded into the subprime mortgage business and bought a hedge fund and Japanese brokerage, among other assets.

A year later, as the global financial crisis took hold, Citigroup took losses and writedowns of more than $50 billion. The New York Fed brought no public enforcement case, although examiners privately sent a critical letter to the company in the first half of 2008.

Compared with its peers, Citigroup had a thinner capital cushion and relied more heavily on less-desirable types of capital, records show. The New York Fed knew – in 2007 it allowed Citigroup to count as capital securities that some regulators and credit agencies frown upon or discount.

Last May, after the collapse of investment firm Bear Stearns set off alarms, Fed regulators and Citigroup were in lockstep about risk and capital levels. "Perfect agreement" is the way CEO Vikram Pandit described it at a meeting with analysts.

A month later, Geithner gave a speech saying regulators needed to do more to make sure that companies had fatter capital cushions – but not until the financial system had stabilized.

Inheriting Citigroup

When Geithner was named president of the New York Fed five years ago, he was youthful but experienced. As undersecretary of Treasury in the late 1990's and later, at the International Monetary Fund, he was no stranger to problems in global credit markets.

Rubin, his former boss at Treasury, described Geithner to The New York Times in 2007 as someone with a "calm way" no matter the circumstance. Rubin, a senior counselor and director at Citigroup after leaving Treasury, called Geithner "elbow-less," referring to his widely recognized collaborative skills and easy manner.

Geithner inherited two Citigroup enforcement matters.

One, stemming from examinations in 2001 and 2002, involved allegations that Citigroup's consumer finance subsidiary converted personal loans into home equity loans without properly assessing credit risk. By May 2004, the Fed filed an action against Citigroup and ordered the firm to pay a record $70 million in penalties.

The other case involved Citigroup's role in helping Enron structure dubious off-balance sheet transactions that first propped up but later brought down the high-flying energy company. In July 2003, Citigroup agreed to pay $120 million to the SEC and entered into an agreement with the New York Fed to beef-up its risk management practices. Fed supervisors were to be informed of the company's progress every three months.

Citigroup's investment bank had run afoul of regulators around the world by 2004. Japanese supervisors forced the company to shut down a private bank. In Great Britain, Citigroup paid $25 million for an improper bond trading scheme, dubbed "Dr. Evil," that regulators said resulted from a corporate request "to increase profits by taking more proprietary market risk."

Higher risk can lead to more profit – or big losses. To cushion against the latter, financial firms must set aside capital, especially shareholder equity, or common stock.

Regulators closely watch a firm's "Tier 1" capital ratio, a percentage of stockholder equity and other stock against total assets, after risk adjustments. Regulators require a well-capitalized holding company to hold at least 6 percent Tier 1 capital, but very large firms or rapidly growing firms are expected to have significantly more.

Geithner made his views on the subject clear at a risk management forum in January 2005. He said the biggest firms needed "exceptionally strong" capital cushions and risk management systems because of their influential role in the financial system.

Citigroup's ratio exceeded 8.5 percent between 2003 and 2006, filings show. Although the company had a Tier 1 target of 7.5 percent, a top executive told securities analysts in 2004 it was "substantially more than what our risk analysis says we need."

As Geithner noted in his speech, the economy was "broadly positive" in 2005. But as Citigroup looked to grow, the Federal Reserve gave mixed signals.

In Washington, Citigroup was asking the Fed Board of Governors to let it buy First American Bank in Texas. The board assessed Citigroup's risk management in conjunction with the New York Fed and OK'd the deal in March 2005, concluding that controls were sound.

Taking note of the firm's problems abroad, however, the governors also put a hold on any "significant expansion" until Citigroup could enact a new risk and compliance plan it had developed to address the previous problems.

Citigroup was back in good graces a year later. After the head of bank supervision for the NY Fed wrote Citigroup indicating the company had made "significant progress" in managing risk, the pause on acquisitions was lifted in April 2006.

Then, the Friday before the Christmas weekend, the Fed announced that it had terminated the 2003 enforcement agreement and its requirement to file quarterly risk management reports. No explanation was offered.

Flurry of deals boosts risk

By then Citigroup was racing ahead at full speed. In 2006, Citigroup's issuances of collateralized debt obligations – securities in which mortgages and other debts are bundled and sold based on risk – grew to $40.9 billion, more than double the prior year. The number of subprime mortgages originated by Citigroup rose 85 percent that year, while other top originators had begun reducing subprime output, Fed data show.

Then the nation's largest banking company, Citigroup also began buying other financial firms. "They became very aggressive on the acquisition front, with a whole flurry of deals," said Joseph Scott, a senior director at the credit agency Fitch Ratings.

These deals pumped up Citigroup's balance sheet. Assets went from $1.2 trillion at the end of 2003 to $2.3 trillion by September 2007. But the bank's defenses weakened during the same period. By the end of September of 2007, records show, Citigroup's once comfortable Tier 1capital ratio had fallen to 7.32 percent, below the bank's target.

Geithner, in a 2006 speech on risk management, foresaw some of the troubles ahead. He said continued success required major institutions "to strengthen their capacity to withstand a less favorable" environment by better calibrating risk and capital.

Trouble became a reality for Citigroup by the end of 2007, when exposure to subprime loans caught up.

The bank's belated attempts to protect itself proved to be too little. Citigroup tried to hedge by purchasing credit default swaps and other instruments from insurance companies that themselves took on too much risk and couldn't cover all their contracts. That added billions to the company's record losses.

"They were late to hedge to begin with," said Scott, and "a lot of the hedging didn't work."

Other indicators of a flawed risk strategy surfaced in 2007. For instance, Citigroup repeatedly revised or "reclassified" its exposure to subprime losses, its definitions for accounting valuations and its reserve allowances.

Analysts say an inability to accurately account for losses is a sign of inadequate risk management.

A management shuffle in late 2007 led to the selection of Pandit, who helped run a hedge fund bought by Citigroup, as chief executive. He later concluded that what "went wrong" at Citigroup was a "tremendous concentration" in U.S. real estate deals.

Pandit quickly put in a new risk management team, a tacit acknowledgement that previous efforts failed. Last March a Citigroup director, testifying before Congress, was more direct: "We as an institution missed this pitch," said Richard Parsons, referring to mismanaging the risks of real estate lending.

Instead of enforcement, a strong letter

Around this time, examiners from the Fed wrote a letter to Citigroup very critical of its risk management practices, The New York Times later reported, citing an unnamed source. The Times report also said Citigroup responded with a plan for a sweeping overhaul of risk management. Although examination letters are part of the supervisory process, they are not considered enforcement actions, which carry more weight.

Scott, the Fitch senior director, called the firm's new risk team impressive, but "they inherited a lot of problems."

The problems cut into Citigroup's all-important capital base.

When it comes to valuing that base, regulators and credit rating agencies favor using common stock. But Citigroup, beginning in late 2007, relied increasingly on "hybrid" capital forms, such as trust-preferred securities, to prop up its Tier 1 ratio.

Even with these hybrids, its capital ratio dipped to 7.12, well below peers like JP Morgan Chase, at 8.44 percent, or Bank of New York Mellon, at 9.32 percent. In general, the NY Fed and the Federal Reserve allow the use of hybrid capital but apply limits and ask firms to obtain prior approval. In 2007, Citigroup exceeded the limit, the only bank among its peers to do so.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation opposes the Federal Reserve's allowance of trust preferred securities for Tier 1 calculations. In 2005, when the Fed was drawing up the rules for trust-preferred securities, the FDIC argued that they should not qualify as Tier 1 capital because they are reported as debt on the balance sheet of banks.

Though the Federal Reserve is the primary regulator of Citigroup, the bank holding company, other regulators have jurisdiction over pieces of the firm and work closely together: the Comptroller of the Currency supervises Citibank; the FDIC insures Citibank's deposits; and the Securities and Exchange Commission oversees investment banks, like Smith Barney. As part of the bailout, Citigroup indicated it had previously entered into regulatory agreements with bank supervisors but did not disclose details.

When Citigroup executives spoke with securities analysts last May, they were questioned extensively about their capital adequacy.

By then Bear Stearns had collapsed, the result of too much subprime exposure, and had been swallowed up by JP Morgan Chase in a government-backed deal that Geithner helped broker. Analysts wondered if Citigroup and others faced such risk.

Surely, one analyst told Citigroup brass, you are being asked by your supervisors to hold more capital, given the market strife and the normal "tension" with regulators and auditors. Pandit, in reply, said there was no tension; all were in "perfect agreement."

The analyst said he didn't believe Pandit. But another Citigroup executive followed up, saying there was "unusual symmetry" with regulators and auditors.

In choppy seas, a tempered approach

A few weeks later, Geithner was publicly backing a cautious approach to building stronger capital margins and saying supervisors could not be omnipotent.

Speaking at a conference in New York in June, Geithner discussed the role of regulators in reducing risk or building capital, especially at major firms. He didn't mention Citigroup; regulators avoid talking about specific institutions.

It wasn't "realistic" to "expect supervisors to act preemptively to defuse pockets of risk and leverage," he said, but they could make the "shock absorbers stronger."

That meant "inducing institutions to hold stronger cushions of capital and liquidity in periods of calm."

But mid-2008 was not the time.

"After we get through this crisis and the process of stabilization and financial repair is complete," Geithner said, "we will put in place more exacting expectations on capital, liquidity and risk management for the largest institutions."

The crisis Geithner hoped would recede only got worse. Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, insurance giant AIG had to be rescued and credit markets froze up.

By far the biggest banking casualty was Citigroup. The firm received a $25 billion capital infusion in October, as part of the rescue plan Geithner helped engineer. That plan was designed to help "generally sound banking organizations." But the markets continued to lose confidence in Citigroup; its stock slid and its cushion of capital grew still thinner.

Last November, the government announced further aid for Citigroup under a new program for less healthy firms. The deal called for $20 billion in exchange for preferred securities, and a fee – paid by Citigroup – in the form of $7 billion more in preferred securities, for Treasury and FDIC to guarantee about $250 billion in bad assets.

A few hours later, President-elect Obama announced his selection of Geithner to replace outgoing Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, with whom Geithner collaborated to design the government's program to bail out banks and Wall Street firms.

Rave reviews poured in from the street to Washington. One of the financial executives quick to praise Geithner was Citigroup's chief executive, Pandit.

"It's good to have him," he said.


Story originally appeared at ProPublica.



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Reader Comments (26)

I LIKE Tim Geithner; his goal is the utter DESTRUCTION of the U.S.A.

And THAT is quite a NOBLE goal....
Apr 12, 2010 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterRecoverylessRecovery
Relax Tiger Woods.
Apr 12, 2010 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra
Look at Timmy smile.

Smile Timmy, smile!

Why is Timmy smiling?
Because he is happy!
Why is he happy?
Because he is successfully robbing the American taxpayer!

Look at Zacapustra complain.
Complain Zarapustra, complain!
Why is Zarapustra complaining?
Because he is a DIPSHIT!.
Apr 12, 2010 at 11:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterRecoverylessRecovery
"I’ve never been a regulator, for better or worse."
~Timothy Geitner

Apr 13, 2010 at 11:43 PM | Unregistered Commentermark mchugh
Timothy Geithner has the grin of a sinister rodent.
Apr 14, 2010 at 3:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterRecoverylessRecovery
RLR...Oh no, I thought you were feeling better. Come on dude. You are putting your feelings to poetry, is THAT your problem.
Apr 14, 2010 at 4:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra
Roses are red
violets are blue
Obama sucks bigtime
and Zarpatoostra does TOO.

LIke it?
Apr 14, 2010 at 2:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterRecoverylessRecovery
Was that the bell, time for recess.
Apr 14, 2010 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra
Nah, that's just the nurse's clock, indicating it's TIME FOR YOUR MEDS.
Apr 14, 2010 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterRecoverylessRecovery

American Patriot Foundation: FTC Terry Lakin Defense Fund
Apr 15, 2010 at 5:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra
See Michael G. New, Gobie.


Many proud party loyalists of both parties have voted to screw the pooch on America for many, many administrations...
Apr 15, 2010 at 9:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterS. Gompers
@ Gompers, looks like it's getting close to being illegal to be an American.

From the results of Specialist New's Court Martial looks like we murdered all those enemy troops and officers we killed after the war who were following orders. I wonder if their descendants can sue?
Apr 15, 2010 at 10:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterSagebrush
It is only "illegal" to caste down your straw person and proclaim you were not born of slavery to the UCC.

Apr 16, 2010 at 5:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterS. Gompers

GO FOR IT says the marxist.
Apr 16, 2010 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra
"...in fact, the public has abandoned the stock market, leaving the hedge funds and trading desks to run a shell game on the taxpayers’ dime that makes it relatively easy to hog-trade stocks higher and higher on almost no volume. This has been occurring nearly every day for months: index futures waft higher overnight on light short-covering, setting up a second wave of short-covering on the NYSE opening."

EXCELLENT hypothesis! Or should I say, 'explanation of the FACTS'. Several of the Austrian school economists that I regularly follow have also put forth this same theory in order to try to explain an otherwise INEXPLICABLY bullish stock market AND a mysteriously STAGNANT interest rate on U.S.bonds. It makes sense.

"...the self-aggrandizing mountebanks who dominate the discussion on CNBC, are saying the glass is half-full. That it is, we would agree – but of hemlock".

Apr 18, 2010 at 4:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterRecoverylessRecovery
KEN...YOU RUCKING FETARD!!!! Looks like this site stepped in shit again and by shit, I mean you.
Apr 18, 2010 at 1:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra
When the cats away, the rucking fetard will play.
Apr 19, 2010 at 12:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra

Barack Obama plays eight times more golf than George W Bush
President Barack Obama has played golf 32 times since he took office, eight times more than his predecessor George W. Bush - who was mocked by the Left for his fondness for the game - did in his entire presidency.

By Toby Harnden in Washington
Published: 7:15PM BST 19 Apr 2010

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden putt on the White House putting green April, 2009
Mr Obama's latest outing on the links came on Sunday, when an opportunity opened up on his schedule after flying bans over most of northern and central Europe forced him to cancel his trip to Krakow to attend the funeral of Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president.

Mr Bush was shown in the Michael Moore film Fahrenheit 9/11 condemning "terrorist killers" in the Middle East when asked a question on the golf course in 2002. Barely pausing for breath, he added: "Thank you. Now watch this drive."
Apr 19, 2010 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra
PHOENIX -- The Arizona House on Monday voted for a provision that would require President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate if he hopes to be on the state's ballot when he runs for reelection.

The House voted 31-22 to add the provision to a separate bill. The measure still faces a formal vote.

It would require U.S. presidential candidates who want to appear on the ballot in Arizona to submit documents proving they meet the constitutional requirements to be president.
Apr 21, 2010 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterZarathustra


What begins as an effort to change your business may well end up as an attempt to change your soul.

Among the many likely consequences of the SEC’s decision to sue Goldman Sachs for fraud is a social upheaval in the bond markets.

Indeed, the social effects of the SEC’s action will almost certainly be greater than the narrow legal ones. Just as there was a time when people could smoke on airplanes, or drive drunk without guilt, there was a time when a Wall Street bond trader could work with a short seller to create a bond to fail, trick and bribe the ratings companies into blessing the bond, then sell the bond to a slow-witted German without having to worry if anyone would ever know, or care, what he’d just done.

That just changed.
Apr 22, 2010 at 6:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterKen
After enjoying that trip down memory lane with Z and RLR, here are a bunch of great links on Geithner, AIG and Citi all within this one piece from Ed Harrison.


Definitely worth a quick read.
Oct 22, 2012 at 3:02 PM | Registered CommenterDailyBail
"One thing you can't hide - is when you're crippled inside." ― John Lennon
Oct 22, 2012 at 4:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterObservant
Heads I win, Tails the American Tax Payer loses. Who wouldn't play that game?
Oct 23, 2012 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterEpinoia
This is quite a bunch of incestious toads. Tim's father & Obama's mother, Tim's cirle of friends.
Barack Obama mother and Timothy Geithner's Father


Similarto Barack Obama mother and Timothy Geithner's Father

Valerie Jarrett & David Axelrod & Tony Rezko and Frank M Davis (mentor or father)

Jarrett father & Geithner father
Who is Valerie Jarrett?..... the Chicago slumlord?... Tony ...


May 23, 2012 ... Her father and Tim Geithner's father, and Obama's white grandfather, and Frank Marshall Davis were friends?

The Audacity of Cronyism: Jarrett, Plouffe, and Donilon


Valerie is daughter in law of Vernon Jerrett. nesaranews.blogspot.com/2012/08/what-are-chances-obama-jarrett-and.h...

The New Team - Valerie Jarrett - Series - NYTimes.com

www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06jarrett.html - Similarto The New Team - Valerie Jarrett - Series - NYTimes.com

Nov 5, 2008 ... Valerie Jarrett has a fierce, almost familial loyalty to Barack Obama and ... her great-uncle is Vernon Jordan, the well-known Democratic power ...

And David Cantor
The American Spectator : All in the (Political) Family


Aug 3, 2012 ... Obama's Marxist Mentor and Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod. ... There, Axelrod was mentored by the Canter family, namely David Canter.

I'm sure there are more connections but this one goes back to Obama's grandfather & Frank M. Davis (Chicago connections)
Oct 23, 2012 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBackgammon
Here is an interesting piece in the New Yorker. If you aren't tired of all the rest of this tragedy. Man gets small job in gubment, works his way up, slides into K street and back again. Makes fortune, etc. If you don't throw your beer bottle against the wall in disgust, then congrats. The system has done it's job. Good day to you all.http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/29/121029fa_fact_packer
Oct 23, 2012 at 9:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSKINFLINT
Citigroup Follows JPMorgan as Legal Target, Peabody Says


Citigroup Inc. (C) is poised to be the next U.S. bank to attract legal and regulatory scrutiny as JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) looks to settle a host of probes, according to an analyst at Portales Partners LLC.

Citigroup’s $5 billion estimate of potential legal costs that weren’t covered by reserves at midyear is second only to JPMorgan, Charles Peabody of Portales said yesterday in a Bloomberg Radio interview. That shows Citigroup may be bracing for more legal challenges, Peabody said.

“It’s very conceivable that Citigroup will be next in the firing line,” Peabody said. “Their litigation costs have been accelerating faster than anyone else’s.” Citigroup is the third-largest U.S. bank by assets and JPMorgan is ranked first. Both are based in New York.
Sep 29, 2013 at 7:41 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohn

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