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October 20, 2009

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Citi sees Asia Pacific as the 'jewel in the crown'

THE Asia Pacific business is the "jewel in the crown" for Citi as the United States financial conglomerate works hard to achieve a solid financial performance to repay the huge bailout the US taxpayers granted to the bank, its Asia Pacific head said.

"We're very much out of the bad news circle," Stephen Bird, chief executive officer of Citi Asia Pacific, told Shanghai Daily in an interview. "The financial crisis is very much behind us."

Citi is now 34 percent owned by the US government after it received a bailout worth tens of billions of US dollars to strengthen its capital and improve its balance sheet.

"We're still careful about the market conditions," he said. "Meanwhile, we're endeavoring to achieve financial performance that demonstrate our strength to pay back the US taxpayers. The plan is pretty much within a planning horizon."

The embattled financial giant reported a US$101 million profit before accounting for US$288 million in preferred stock dividends and the debt exchange offer that gives the government a 34 percent stake. The exchange offer eroded earnings which fell to US$3.06 billion. If those items were included, Citi reported a US$3.24 billion loss.

Meanwhile, the Asia Pacific region, which is set to grow two to three times the pace of developed countries, stands out as a big profit contributor. The net income for the banking giant in the region stood at US$845 million for the quarter, the largest net profit result of any region it operates.

"Asia Pacific is a credit-tested durable business," said Bird. "China lies at the very heart of Citi's Asia Pacific priorities." Citi's business on Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong contributed to about one-third of Citi's business in the region.

In its three-year plan for China, Citi aims to tap the rising trade between the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan to further consolidate its corporate banking business in the country. The bank plans to target China's rapidly growing affluent population.

The average worth of the mainland's richest 1,000 people surged 30 percent to US$571 million in the past 12 months, said the annual Hurun Rich List.

"We will continue to expand our presence here across multiple lines of business," Bird, who has been with Citi for two decades, said. "That's why we continue to hold our stake in our strategic partners in China."

Royal Bank of Scotland and other overseas banks sold their stake in Chinese banks to raise capital in the face of the crisis. "The crisis is also an opportunity," said Bird. "Some people left, but we stayed."

Citi owns 20 percent in Guangdong Development Bank and a 3.8 percent in Shanghai Pudong Development Bank.

Citi set up its local incorporation - Citibank (China) Co - on the Chinese mainland in 2007. The bank is also targeting China's rural population by opening its third lending company in the country in Wafangdian in Liaoning Province last week. Its two other lending firms are in Hubei Province.

They offer an average unsecured loan of 30,000 yuan or 100,000 yuan secured loans to individuals, the self-employed and micro-enterprises in the rural areas.


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