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Citigroup loses $7.8B in fourth quarter

Citigroup Inc. became the latest bank to take a cautious view of consumers' credit problems, reporting a $7.77-billion fourth-quarter loss due to failed loans and the costs of repaying $20 billion in government bailout money.

Even with the loss, Citigroup, the hardest hit of the big U.S. banks during the credit crisis and recession, plans to give big bonuses this month to its top employees.

The earnings report yesterday, which met analysts' expectations, reflected Citigroup's struggles and changing status in the banking industry. The company was forced to set aside $8.18 billion to cover the loans consumers can't repay, joining other big lenders who are still losing money on loans. But Citigroup, having been forced to shed its big investment banking and brokerage businesses during the banking crisis, lacked those buffers against losses that other major financial companies still have.

The company's focus, therefore is on loans, which are deeply troubled but showing some very early signs of improvement. For example, the addition to Citigroup's loan reserves was down 10 percent from the third quarter, and 36 percent from a year earlier.

And John Gerspach, Citigroup's chief financial officer, noted during a conference call with the media that the number of mortgage and credit card loans that were newly delinquent, or between one and three months past due, had started to stabilize and even drop in some of its lending portfolios.

However, "the U.S. credit story is still very much developing," Gerspach said. His caution was similar to that of JPMorgan Chase & Co., which said it set aside $7.28 billion for failed loans during the quarter, nearly identical to the amount it reserved for bad loans during the final quarter in 2008. - AP

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