Best Stocks for 2017: Citigroup Inc (C) Is Peaking at a Good Time

Editor’s note: This column is part of our Best Stocks for 2017 contest. Ken Trester’s pick for the contest is Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C).

In December, I picked Citigroup Inc (NYSE:C) as my best stock to buy for 2017. I stood behind my selection then and, today, I see no reason to move in any other direction. One sign of good things to come, C stock — the bank’s provider of commercial and consumer banking products and services — raised its base lending rate to 4.25% from 4% last month.

C stock: Citigroup Inc (C) Is Peaking at a Good TimeBack in April, I mentioned that I liked Citigroup because it’s probably one of the most undervalued bank stocks and, therefore, it has the best chance to appreciate from current levels. Its total assets are very large compared to its market price, and its price-to-book value back then was around 0.80. Now, the price-to-book value is around 0.89. C stock has performed well since the positive results of the Federal Reserve’s stress tests, which is a welcomed surprise with a price now in the range of $68.

In my last update, I noted that when you look at Citi’s stock chart, the shares were in the process of consolidating. I predicted C stock was going to make another big move — probably towards $65 — by the end of 2017. And right now, Citigroup is trending in the direction I thought it would.

While the momentum C is gaining is great to see, the best part is that there is still room for improvement. Citigroup’s recent rise has not been generated as a result of a fundamental shift in terms of gaining new customers by organizing better business opportunities.

Instead, the rise is due to the Federal Reserve allowing the company and 33 other big banks in the U.S. to release more of their capital to their shareholders after passing the stress tests. These stress tests are conducted by the Fed to establish supervisory objectives from lessons learned during the economic recession between 2007 and 2009.

The Fed monitors whether or not financial firms with $50 billion or more in consolidated assets are equipped to take on losses during bad economic conditions while meeting their tasks to be able to lend to businesses and households.

So, while I don’t put a lot of emphasis on the merits of the stress test, it’s good to see the bullish action from Citi’s stock. I’m also pleased to see that C doubled its dividend payout from 16 cents to 32 cents while announcing a buyback program of $15.6 billion on June 29, which is the largest in the company’s history.

These capital actions are scheduled to take place during the next four quarters and will total in $18.9 billion starting with the third quarter in July.

Citigroup’s Situation in Europe

Outside of the U.S., C stock is dealing with some positive trends in part due to the European central banking forum held in Portugal from June 26-28 that was hosted by the European Central Bank (ECB). Comments made by ECB President Mario Draghi were initially interpreted by the market as an aggressive approach.

The euro rose to a nine-day high after Draghi’s remarks, and those remarks come at a time where Citigroup’s advising in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) has already had a productive year ranked No.1 in the M&A league table for the regions as of June 27.

In another bout of good news, Citigroup recently hired Alison Harding-Jones as the new head of EMEA M&A as well as the vice-chairman of EMEA corporate and investment banking. Harding-Jones, who worked for UBS Group AG (USA) (NYSE:UBS), was UBS’s head of Asia Pacific M&A.

At the same time, Citigroup is also bracing itself for a potential split regarding Brexit, as the company has hired former J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) and Deutsche Bank AG (USA) (NYSE:DB) investment banker Karl-Georg Altenburg as a senior adviser to help monitor the situation.

Things look good so far, and Citigroup is also doing an excellent job of performing its due diligence for what might be ahead with Brexit. Citigroup is currently deciding to settle on a location to move services with the intent of keeping its clients.

C stock to me is still an under-the-radar bank stock. Bigger branches like Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) and Wells Fargo & Co (NYSE:WFC) continue to get the headlines, while Citi is operating in an efficient fashion with a future that is bright as we get closer to the end of 2017. To sum it up, I still think Citigroup is a quality stock to buy.

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