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Rediff.com  » Business » Citigroup to hold fast in China and India

Citigroup to hold fast in China and India

May 28, 2009 09:00 IST

The head of Citigroup's Asian operations ruled out selling the US group's stakes in Chinese and Indian banks.
Ajay Banga, chief executive of Citi in Asia-Pacific, told the FT that the bank, which the US government rescued last year, also planned to expand lending across the region in spite of the "challenging" economic environment.

The Asia-Pacific region, which for Citi includes Japan and Australia, accounted for 30 per cent of the bank's revenues last year, spanning corporate and consumer lending, credit cards, trading and private banking.

"It is in US taxpayers' best interests that we continue to grow in a region which is delivering strong profits across all its business lines," Mr Banga said in an interview.

His comments will serve as a riposte to sceptics who believe that Citi will be forced to cut back its Asian operations amid domestic political pressure to focus on lending to US clients.

Citi this month sold its Japanese domestic securities business to Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group in a $7.8bn deal that helped bolster its battered balance sheet.

A US government stress test of the country's banks later found that Citi still required a further $5.5bn in capital to guard against losses if the recession worsened.

This has prompted speculation that Citi could be forced to follow some of its western rivals and raise cash by selling lucrative stakes in Chinese banks.

Citi owns a 20 per cent stake and has management control of Guangdong Development Bank, a lender focused on the industrial heartland of southern China, and owns a 3.75 per cent stake in Shanghai Pudong Development Bank.
Citi is also the leading shareholder in India's HDFC Bank, holding an 11.7 per cent stake.

Mr Banga pledged that Citi would keep its stake in HDFC, which he described as among India's "best run financial institutions".

He added: "Selling our stakes in Chinese banks does not make sense either. How else would we gain access to the opportunities in an area such as the Pearl river delta?"

Several distressed western lenders, including UBS and Royal Bank of Scotland, this year cashed in their Chinese banking investments, while Bank of Americahas pocketed more than $10bn by offloading half of its 20 per cent stake in China Construction Bank.

Mr Banga cautioned that Citi's revenues in the region would be under strain this year, given the "challenging" economic backdrop and uncertainty over the sustainability of the stock market recovery.

"It could be another nine to 12 months until the US economy shows signs of real improvement, which is key to the export-orientated economies of Asia-Pacific," he said.

Sundeep Tucker in Hong Kong
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