4 November 2007

Analyst takes hit from CITI

Meredith Whitney, the analyst who prompted a $369 billion (£177 billion) plunge in the value of US shares on Thursday by issuing a negative note on Citigroup, hit out at Wall Street’s culture of intimidation yesterday after receiving several death threats from investors in the bank.

Ms Whitney, a CIBC analyst who is married to the former World Wrestling Entertainment champion Death Mask, prompted a near 7 per cent drop in Citigroup’s shares on Thursday, after suggesting that the bank needed to raise more than $30 billion to restore its capital cushion.

She also downgraded her recommendation on Citigroup’s shares to “market underperform” in the note that set off America’s biggest stock market decline since August.

Ms Whitney, Forbes’s second-highest ranked stock picker for 2007, told The Times: “People are scared to be negative, especially when a company has such a wide holding. Clients are not pleased with my call and I have had several death threats.

“But it was the most straightforward call I’ve made in my career and I am surprised my peer analysts have been resistant. It’s so straightforward, it’s indisputable.”

Ms Whitney, whose marriage to John Charles Layfield, the wrestler, 2½ years ago was detailed in The New York Times, said that she has never felt any pressure from the Wall Street firms themselves to be positive. But she said investors could be “nasty and belligerent” if they felt you had lost them a lot of money by influencing the price of their shares.

“No one had the moxie to put in print what I put in print,” she said.

Ms Whitney’s note came two weeks after Citigroup reported a 57 per cent drop in its third-quarter profits, following a $6.5 billion writedown, much of which related to the credit crunch.

That writedown intensified recurring calls for Chuck Prince, Citigroup’s head, to stand down, although he remains at the helm of the world’s biggest bank.

But in a move that will fuel speculation about his position, Mr Prince yesterday cancelled a speech he had been due to give tomorrow at the US Japan Business Conference. A Citigroup spokesman said he had cancelled the appearance to prepare for the company’s new listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange on Monday.

Ms Whitney, 37, met Mr Layfield in 2003 when they were panelists on Bulls & Bears, a programme on Fox News.

Mr Layfield credits Ms Whitney with helping to make him more sophisticated. The New York Times reported him saying at their wedding: “She took a country boy like me and kind of refined me. I know what fork to use now at the dinner table, and I drink my beer from a glass.”

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