Why Citigroup Inc. (C) Beat Up on Everyone and Everything This Week

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It was a good week for Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C). With just a little over an hour left in the trading week, the superbank’s share price has made a net gain of 3.12%, moving from an opening price of $42.69 to the current price of $44.03.

3.12% was enough to boost the bank comfortably past the performance of its peers and well past the performance of the market. It’s tough to chalk this hearty move up to any one thing, but a savvy divestiture earlier in the week may have had something to do with it. Alas, investors may have also missed out an item that could have swung things the other way for Citi.

Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C)The tale of the tickers
Here’s where some of banking’s biggest guns are shaking out at the end of this week’s trading:

1). Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) is only slightly behind Citi, showing a net gain of 2.56% on the week.

2). JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) is trailing significantly farther behind, with only 0.95% to show for the week.

3). But 1.45% is a lot better than what Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC), up only 0.23%, could manage.

The market wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire this week either, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average currently down by 0.19%, the Nasdaq down by 0.03%, and the S&P 500 up by a mere 0.08%. So what made it such a happy week for Citi?

Of divestiture and indebtedness
Both Citi and B of A are having banner weeks. B of A possibly down to the president’s call for increased home lending and the bank’s professed intention to get in on it with home lending being an easy way to make money in the current resurgent U.S. housing market, one the superbank has so far been remarkably shy of.

As for Citi, I wrote earlier in the week that news the bank had sold half its stake in Grupo Aeromexico SAB, Mexico’s largest airline, might have helped shift some investor money its way: Any sign that the wayward bank is moving back to core banking and shedding questionable assets (like a large position in a foreign airline) can’t help but lift its reputation in the eyes of investors.

But one thing that I missed earlier in the week, probably along with most investors, is that Citi has taken to the debt market, issuing $1.5 billion worth of 10-year notes this week. With existing long-term debt on the books of more than $239 billion, another $1.5 billion perhaps isn’t so shocking, but isn’t necessarily a positive sign either.

Money is cheap right now, and Citi won’t have to pay its bondholders much in the way of interest rates, but I don’t think the bank should be going any further into debt right now — period, unless it has absolutely has to. And if it absolutely has to, then something’s not right. I didn’t see any explanation in the news from the bank explaining the debt issuance. Some sort of explanation would have been helpful, otherwise, investors just have to guess, which never inspires confidence.

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