Turn the Lights Off (Archives)


The original Szelhamos Rules ran for precisely 1 year, from February 2007 – February 2008. This article originally appeared March 27, 2007. It is reprinted here in honor of Dick Parsons’ appearance on CNBC this morning and the ouster of Sally Krawcheck from Bank of America


What do India, Buffalo, Cincinnati and northern New Jersey have in common? Here’s a hint. They are the antithesis of London, Hong Kong and New York.

Sad CitiCitibank, or as it is now known, CitiGroup, announced that it is laying off 10,000 people and re-assigning another 14,000 +.

Do you remember the old Citibank slogan? “The Citi never sleeps? Apparently, the slogan was true. But there was a steep price to be paid. Why didn’t Citi ever sleep? Because it always kept its lights on in such high electricity cost sites as London, Hong Kong and New York. With the worldwide cost of energy soaring, it was only a matter of time until the venerable Citi put on a sweater, turned the thermostat down, lights off and fired 10,000 employees.

The much beleagured Citigroup Chairman, Charles Prince, has decided that the Citi must sleep. So he has ordered that the lights be turned out, at least in those costly cities. And 10,000 people will now be able to get some rest.

As for those other 14,000 that are going to be relocated, they won’t be sleeping. Scientific evidence seems to indicate that the lack of sleep in low cost of living areas has no detrimental effect on health. And like any good employer in a capitalist society, Citi wants what’s best for its employees. So now, they won’t be sleeping in affordable sections of India, Buffalo, Cincinnati and northern New Jersey. Did you ever think that the latter three would ever be in the same league as a third world nation?

So say “hello” to India, Buffalo, Cincinnati and northern New Jersey. If you’ve ever been to Hong Kong, you’ll be amazed at how similar it is to Buffalo. That should be an easy relocation. I feel badly, though, for those Hong Kong people being relocated to Cincinnati. Talk about culture shock. Do you know how hard it will be to get good fresh pickled eel? They may have to cross over into Kentucky.

But I know what you’re asking. How does this news effect me? Pretty straightforward. Your life as a customer in need of assistance, will be miserable. If you think the accent of your customer service rep in India was tough to handle, just wait until you hear the northern Jersey accents. You’ll be pining for the old days.

Over the years I’ve been looking for good reasons to buy some Citi. Until today, I hadn’t found any. As Citi kept getting bigger and bigger, it seemed to lose its way. Jim Cramer is very blunt about Citi. He thinks the only way for the stock to appreciate is for Prince to go, The chorus is getting louder.

So today comes the big announcement. Even in today’s down market, the news would have ordinarily been met with enthusiasm. As it turned out, Citi under-performed today’s market. What will Prince need to do next to keep his head off the chopping block? He’s obviously going to strategize like it’s 1999. But whatever else, it’s probably too late. So as it turned out, I still haven’t found a compelling reason to make the purchase. But it’s coming sooner, rather than later.

So Citi didn’t help things today, but at least it’s not involved with sub-prime, at least not as far as we know. But in just a second degree of separation, the market wasn’t very good today, with homebuilders, yet again, dragging everyone down. Put this into short term context, though. Yesterday, after all, was actually a great day. After 5 straight up days, we were poised to slide. Down over 100 points, the rebound returned us to a loss of just 11 points. How great was that?

So today, with no real news, just more dwelling on the housing numbers, the market didn’t do much of anything. No conviction or just a case of taking a breather. I doubt the latter. Traders are just waiting for the slightest positive hints to take us to the next level. But they are nervous.

On a personal note, despite the qualms about trading UNH for Altria, on day one it’s looking like a really good move, especially with UNH down $1.20 from where I sold it and the Altria (when issued) up $0.42 from its purchase price. I’m glad that when I get my life insurance premium quotes they don’t ask me whether I’m a smoker, by proxy.

And did you see NYSE today? It continues on its climb back toward its high. I’ve been holding off selling call options, because I felt that it’s stock price was too low and the stock would still be heading up. In the after hours, thanks to some very positive comments by Jim Cramer, NYSE doubled its regular trading gain, closing in on $96. Once it gets to 100, it will be time to sell April $105 or more likely, May $110 call options.

While the market continues to look poised to move up once it completely digests this sub-prime stuff, I am actually wondering what Citi’s move portends in the long term.

In the past few years, the economy has been adding jobs. We’re a little removed from some of the misery a few years ago when it seemed that each week a new and ever larger layoff was announced. We were getting used to companies announcing one huge layoff after another. It’s hard to know whether the relative calm of the past few years has been because companies are now lean and mean, or because business has been good.

The consistently increasing monthly productivity numbers might seem to indicate that both are true. Perhaps there was a causal relationship. But its been calm lately, that is, until today. No numbers were given on the proportion of Citi layoffs in the United States. You would think that with the past outcry over outsourcing, if jobs were being relocated to the US, CitiGroup would trumpet that fact. So who knows?

It’s time to turn the light back on CitiGroup to help clarify what their announcement really means for all of us. Or as is said when the lights go off for the night, “Good night sweet Prince, good night”.


Note: The original version of this article did not include the graphic “Sad Citi”



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