By David Henry and Niket Nishant
(Reuters) -Citigroup Inc displayed some of the financial bruises required for its current restructuring as it reported a 26% drop in fourth-quarter profit on Friday.
The bank said results were depressed by $1.1 billion in after-tax expenses for its ongoing divestitures of consumer banking businesses outside of the United States.
The lender has been shedding the last of its non-U.S. consumer businesses as part of a "strategy refresh" started by Chief Executive Officer Jane Fraser, who took the helm in March.
Operating expenses were up 18% from a year earlier with the charges but still up 8% for its ongoing businesses.
It has also spent more in the past few quarters to fix issues regulators identified in its controls systems, leading to questions from investors on how much money and time the remedies will require.
The bank said this week it would wind down its massive consumer bank in Mexico and earlier on Friday announced the sale of its retail arms in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam to Singapore-based lender United Overseas Bank.
Fraser said the decision on the Mexico business is the last big move to come from the new strategy which will focus more tightly on Citigroup's institutional businesses.
She said the Mexico business is "a jewel," but for someone else. [L1N2TU28H]
"Our vision for Citi is to be the pre-eminent bank for institutions with cross-border needs," Fraser told analysts, adding that it also aims to be a "global leader in wealth, a major player in consumer payments and lending in the home market."
"It's simplified, more focused," she said.
Citigroup's costs have also risen due to a battle for talent on Wall Street that has prompted global banks to offer perks like higher pay and bonuses.
"We have seen some pressure in what one has to pay to attract talent," Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason said on a post-earnings call with reporters.
The higher costs pushed down the bank's profit to $3.2 billion, or $1.46 per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 31, from $4.3 billion, or $1.92 per share, a year earlier.
The profit drop had sent the company's shares down as much as 3.5% in early trading, but they pared losses after CFO Mason confirmed that company would resume share buybacks as planned.
The stock closed down 1.2% on Friday.
Citi had suspended buybacks in the fourth quarter to build capital ahead of charges for shutting down its Korean consumer business and the impact of a new rule on capital for derivatives risk.
Excluding the hit from Asia divestitures, the bank earned a profit of $1.99 per share. Analysts on average had expected a profit of $1.38 per share, according to Refinitiv IBES data.
Its global consumer banking revenue dropped 6% as holders of Citi-branded credit cards in North America paid down card balances, denying it interest income.
"Spending rates have picked up, which is good, but we have to see that materialize into average interest-earning balances which means payment rates have to normalize," Mason said.
Revenue from Treasury and Trade Solutions, generally considered Citigroup's strongest corporate business, was down 1% due to low interest rates.
The bank's overall net interest income (NII) was flat year-over-year at $10.82 billion as borrowing from corporations stayed flat. But NII from the bank's basic lending business outside of markets rose 0.6%.
Net interest margin, which measures the difference between what Citigroup pays for money and earns from loans and securities, declined to 1.98% from 2.06% a year earlier.
A bright spot during the quarter was the bank's investment banking business, which posted a 43% jump in revenue.
Total revenue increased 1% from a year earlier to $17 billion.
Wall Street peers JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co also reported results on Friday, with their profits comfortably beating consensus estimates.
(Reporting by Niket Nishant in Bengaluru and David Henry in New YorkEditing by Aditya Soni and Matthew Lewis)