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Citi has been unwieldy, impossible to manage and too big to fail for well over 30 years. Post-crisis, however, it has effected an impressive transformation.

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Its earnings, unjuiced by the excess leverage of the early 2000s, have largely regained their pre-crisis levels — an impressive enough achievement even before you realize that the bank has shrunk considerably over the past decade.

  • Citigroup has 204,000 employees today, down from 374,000 in 2007, and it operates in fewer than half of the countries it did pre-crisis. A bank that once wanted to dominate the planet, Citi is now trying to make a virtue out of the fact that it has many fewer branches than its rivals.

The bottom line: Given Citi's status as an accident-prone and highly regulated central part of America's financial plumbing, the bank's first job is to be safe and boring. Citi's profitability is high enough that it should comfortably be able to weather a downturn, but not quite so high as to be a warning signal that the bank is taking on too much risk.

  • To see how well CEO Michael Corbat has done his job, just compare Citi with Deutsche Bank. The two have a lot in common, but Deutsche is a basket case, while Citi gets stronger every quarter.

The bank's shareholders are restive, however. The FT's Robert Armstrong came out with a 2,000-word "big read" this week devoted to the proposition that Citi is underperforming and needs a "strategic shift."

  • What they're saying: "Slow-and-steady improvement is not enough," writes Armstrong, channeling a growing consensus. "Mr Corbat and Citi’s board need to be bolder."

Be worried: The last time we saw headlines like this was in 2007, when Fortune described Citi's artificially inflated prior-year earnings as "less than stellar" at $21.5 billion, and when CEO Chuck Prince desperately told the FT that "when the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance."

Our thought bubble: Citigroup's profits are already huge, at roughly $2 billion per month. Shareholders want the bank to try to boost them further. The rest of us, not so much.

Go deeper

AT&T spins off U.S. video business via deal with TPG

Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

AT&T is spinning off three of its video services, including its satellite TV brand DirecTV, to create a new standalone video company called New DIRECTV.

Details: The company will be jointly owned by AT&T and private-equity giant TPG. AT&T will retain a 70% stake and TPG will own 30% of the firm.

Updated 17 mins ago - Sports

Ex-USA Gymnastics coach dies by suicide after being charged with human trafficking

John Geddert. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

The body of John Geddert was found on Thursday, just hours after the former USA Gymnastics coach was charged with 24 counts of criminal misconduct, according to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

What they're saying: “My office has been notified that the body of John Geddert was found late this afternoon after taking his own life. This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved," Nessel said in a statement.

House passes Equality Act to boost LGBTQ protections

A protester holds a rainbow flag in Times Square in Oct. 2020. Photo: John Lamparski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The House voted 224-206 on Thursday to pass the Equality Act, which would expand federal protections for LGBTQ people by prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Why it matters: The legislation passed in the House in May 2019, but never reached the Republican-controlled Senate under former President Trump. Democratic leaders believe there is a chance to pass the act into law this year with a 50-50 split in the Senate, but it is uncertain whether enough Republicans will support the bill for it to move forward.

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