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Improved Capital Markets Lift Citigroup's 1Q Net, Revenue

By Matthias Rieker and Mia Lamar Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Citigroup Inc.'s (C) first-quarter profit remained virtually flat from a year earlier at $2.9 billion as revenue, particularly from equity and debt capital markets operations, improved from the fourth quarter. In a quarter clouded by a tangle of one-time charges related to the value of Citi's own debt, various divestitures, and a reduction of the reserves set aside for future loan losses, the bank was still able to eke out improvements in all three of its lines of business. Revenue of $19.4 billion fell 1.6% from a year earlier but rose 13% from the previous quarter. Citi also reported an increase in capital, which is important because the bank's request to raise its dividend or to buy back stock was rebuffed after the Federal Reserve's most recent stress test, an embarrassing setback for Chief Executive Vikram Pandit. Citi's loan book grew 12% from a year earlier, to $514 billion. Though Pandit said the overall outlook for the world economy remains clouded by uncertainty. "While our businesses operated in an improved environment, we also saw the benefit of our investments," he said in a press release. "We generated revenue growth and had positive operating leverage across all three of Citi's core businesses." Shares recently rose 1.3% in premarket trading, to $33.85. Citigroup's vast international footprint has been an important source of strength for the massive bank, with increased lending in Asia and Latin America helping to balance choppier performance in Citi's capital markets business. The results included a $1.3 billion charge related to the value of Citi's debt. The company reported a profit of $1.11 a share, excluding the charge to its debt and the impact of the sales of businesses, like the reduction of its ownership stake in Turkish bank Akbank TAS (AKBNK.IS, AKBTY). Analysts expected core earnings of $1 per share, and revenue of $19.81 billion in revenue. Citi's revenue, excluding the charges, was $20.2 billion. Revenue at Citi's capital markets business rebounded from disappointing results during the previous two quarters. Revenue was $5.2 billion, a 12% decline from a year earlier but an improvement from the $3.2 billion in the fourth quarter. The company's retail banking business posted a 5% increase in revenue from a year earlier and 1% from the fourth quarter, to $10 billion. -By Matthias Rieker and Mia Lamar, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2471; matthias.rieker@dowjones.com

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