NEW YORK (AP) — Pressured by the Obama administration, Citigroup Inc. reversed course and said it will not take delivery of a corporate jet it previously planned to purchase.
The canceled deal comes amid a chorus of concerns from politicians who are worried about how banks that have received federal funds are spending the money. Citigroup has received $45 billion in capital from the government in recent months amid the ongoing credit crisis.
"Citi has no intent to take delivery of any new aircraft," the New York-based bank said in a statement Tuesday.
An official in President Barack Obama's administration reached out to Citigroup on Monday to reiterate Obama's position that such jets aren't "the best use of money at this point," and are "an outrageous use of funds" for a company getting taxpayer dollars, said a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe private conversations.
In a statement late Monday, Citi said it had placed a deposit in 2005 to acquire a new corporate jet, and said it didn't plan to use government funds for the purchase. The New York-based bank noted that any cancellation of the deal would likely lead to millions of dollars in penalties.
On Monday, the New York Post reported that Citi was set to take possession of a new corporate jet, and was still planning to receive it even after it received the government funding.
With the cancellation of the deal, a deposit on the jet will be lost, but is recoverable once the jet is sold, according to a person familiar with situation. Citi was in the process of purchasing a Dassault Falcon 7X for $50 million, the person said.
Aside from not taking control of a new jet, Citi is also planning to cut the number of corporate jets in its existing fleet to two from five, said the person, who asked not to be identified because those details haven't been made public.
Corporate jets have become a hot-button topic amid the ongoing credit crisis as the cost of owning and operating them has come into question, especially for companies receiving financial support from the government.
In November, executives of automakers Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC were roundly criticized for flying on corporate jets to Washington to ask Congress for federal bailout money.
Obama criticized the automakers during the transition, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters at his daily briefing on Monday that that view applied in the Citi case as well. So an official from the Treasury Department relayed this privately to Citi, saying it was the feeling of not just the president but also lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the public, according to the White House official who spoke anonymously.
Citi has been among the hardest hit banks by rising loan defaults and souring investments, and been one of the biggest receivers of government support.
The bank has received $45 billion in capital from the government as part of the U.S. Treasury Department's plan to directly invest in banks. The government is also providing guarantees on hundreds of billions of dollars of Citi investments in mortgages and other troubled investments.
Amid the struggles, Citi has been working to streamline its operations and shed assets in an effort to regain profitability. The bank has posted five consecutive quarterly losses, including a fourth-quarter loss of $8.29 billion.
Earlier this month, Citi reached a deal to sell a majority stake in its Smith Barney brokerage unit to Morgan Stanley. Citi has also announced plans split its operations into two units, separating its traditional banking businesses from its riskier operations.
It might take a while for Citi to recover its deposit on the canceled jet deal, as the market for corporate aircraft has softened with the economy.
Before the jet market cooled last year, speculators sometimes placed orders with no intention of taking delivery of the plane. They would sell their position in line.
"There was such a backlog — three or three-and-a-half year waits — people could buy positions and flip them for a profit," said Robert F. Agnew, president and chief executive of aviation consulting firm Morton Beyer & Agnew. "Selling a slot today is probably very difficult."
Agnew said buyers typically pay a few percentage points of the purchase price when placing the order, then a series of payments as production begins and other milestones are reached. They might pay about 35 percent of the cost before taking delivery, then pay the balance when taking the plane, he said. At that rate, Citi could have already spent $17.5 million on a plane it will no longer receive.
Agnew did note that upfront costs can be much lower where a strong relationship exists between buyer and seller, but said he was not familiar with Citigroup's arrangement with Dassault.
AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven in Washington and AP Business Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.