Citigroup's 10-to-1 Long Shot

03/23/2011 4:01 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

It’s a cynical, totally transparent ploy—but it’s our ploy. If you own the shares as I do, I’m sure you hope it works.

Citigroup (C) has announced that it will engineer a reverse 1-for-10 stock split, and then resume payment dividends at a rate of a penny a share.

The two moves will finally get the shares above $10 (they’ve been stuck at $5 for months), the cutoff level for some institutional investors. That, plus the new dividend—some institutional investors can’t buy shares without dividends—will expand the stock’s potential ownership pool.

Not that anyone is going to be fooled, by these moves, into thinking that shares of Citigroup are anything but the slowly recovering equity of the US bank that got the biggest taxpayer bailout.

After the May 6 reverse split, in which investors get one new Citigroup share for each ten they now own—but where each share is worth 10 times the old price, so it’s a wash—the stock will yield roughly 0.09%, the third-lowest yield for any stock on the S&P 500.

The reverse split will also reduce the huge float for Citigroup shares. With 29 billion shares outstanding, Citigroup has almost three times more shares outstanding than any other stock in the S&P 500.

All this may strike you as putting lipstick on a pig—but hey, it will be a prettier pig. And that will count for something, as investors wait to see if Citigroup can actually rebuild its business.

Unfortunately, I think it will be significantly more difficult to get Citigroup shares to $70, after the reverse split, than it would have been to get today’s shares to $7. And that penny dividend is just a bit too cute.

So, as of March 23, I’m raising my target price to $6.25 (or a post-split $62.50) but stretching it out to December 2011.

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. The mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund (JUBAX ), may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this post. The fund did own shares of Citigroup as of the end of January. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of January, see the fund’s portfolio here.

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