Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

Grocery Wars

Costco is not Helping Citigroup

Gaining Costco Wholesale’s (NASDAQ: COST) credit-card business seems to have done Citigroup (NYSE: C) a lot of harm. All the monster bank seems to have gotten for its’ troubles are falling revenues and lots of angry customers.

During the first three months that the Costco Anywhere Visa card was available Citi’s revenues fell by $930 million, ycharts data indicates. The Anywhere Visa replaced Amex at U.S. Costco stores on June 20, 2016, just before Citi reported TTM revenues of $72.25 billion on June 30.

Three months later Citi reported revenues of $71.32 billion for the third quarter on September 30. If the Costco Anywhere Card is so wonderful why did those revenues not increase? Costco’s revenues actually increased slightly during that period. The club store reported revenues of $117.27 billion in February 2016 and $118.72 billion in August 2016.

What’s worse is that Citi’s revenues fell by $4.48 billion in the year that ended on September 30. Citigroup reported $75.8 billion in revenues in September, and $71.32 billion this year. It looks as if Citibank’s business is shrinking despite the Costco gamble.

More Costco Visa Troubles at Citibank

What’s worse is that consumer complaints about the Costco Anywhere Visa keep rolling. The latest involves insurance some California residents have had their accident insurance policies terminated without their knowledge.


Cheryl and Vic Matkovich received a letter cancelling their insurance dated June 25, Business Insider reported. The letter stated that their coverage had lapsed on June 23. That sounds like a tremendous advertisement for Sam’s Club and Capital One to me.

Citigroup received 337,000 new credit card customers as a result of the Costco deal but those are captive customers. The company is admitting that the only way it can get people to take some of its cards is to force them too.

How Loyal are Costco Customers?

The Anywhere Visa is the only credit card that Costco takes. Many of those people only got one because they want to shop at Costco. That sounds like a terrible reason to get a credit card to me.

One has to wonder how many of Costco’s 11 million members will simply drop their memberships rather than continue dealing with Citigroup. We will only know when membership renewal time starts, and we start getting numbers from Costco. My guess is that many members will stay at Costco until their membership runs out then simply transfer their Citi balance to another card and not renew.

If that happens a big winner is likely to be Walmart’s (NYSE: WMT) Sam’s Club, which now takes American Express (NYSE: AXP). Another is Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), which offers similar services and products through its Prime memberships.


Is Citigroup Making Money?

Despite the Costco debacle, Citigroup is still making money, because its’ income is increasing.

Citi reported $14.67 billion in net income on September 30, 2016; which was a slight increase over 2015. The bank reported a net income of $14.25 billion in September 2015. Unfortunately the net income has fallen since the Costco deal – it was $15.31 billion in June 2016.

This makes Citi something of a value investment because it can afford to lose a lot of money. Citigroup will survive the Costco troubles, because it can take the hit.

Citigroup has a Lot of Cash

Citi can afford to take the hit, because it has a lot of cash and float. Here is what the bank reported on September 30:

  • $6.552 billion in free cash flow. Note this was down from $20.25 billion on June 30, 2016. That might mean the Costco deal may have cost $14 billion which sounds like a bad investment to me.


  • $1.818 trillion in assets.


  • $155.99 billion in cash and short-term investments.


  • $15.14 billion in cash from financing.


  • $26.17 billion in cash from operations. This figure too is down considerably from June when Citigroup reported $42.46 billion in cash from operations.


These numbers are good but they coast serious doubt upon the Costco deal. In the first three months Citi was at Costco its cash from operations fell by $16.29 billion and its free cash flow shrank by $13.70 billion.

Call me a cynic but sounds as if Citi has taken some nasty losses somewhere. Hopefully it is not on the Costco deal. The management team at Citigroup had better pray for a good holiday season at Costco, they’re going to need one after this.

Citigroup is Still a Good Investment

Now for the most interesting part of our little story, Citigroup is still a pretty good investment. It had a dividend yield of .76% on November 18, 2016, and a return on equity of 7.02% on September 30, 2016.

Citi investors received a dividend of 16¢ on November 3, 2016. That dividend has increased by 11¢ a share over the past year, on April 28, 2016; Citi shareholders received a dividend of just 5¢. This looks like a really good dividend stock to me and the dividend is growing.

Citigroup has become a good value investment because it is swimming in cash and capable of surviving the troubles at Costco. The Costco merger is far from a perfect deal but it will add some cash to Citi’s accounts and give the company resources for future growth.

Like many of its peers in the financial industry, Citi is a good investment because of all the cash it has. It is capable of surviving and making a lot of money for a long time even if it makes a mess of some of its operations. That’s what I call a classic value investment.