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Citi for dinner, a duet and an alphabet of alphas

Citi is proof of the adage: “You can’t be all things to all men.” A mole confided: “I’m all for breaking it up.” In my first column, published in April 2006, I queried the strategy and investment validity of Citigroup. Eighteen months later, I’m still asking the same questions.

Citi’s lesson from history

Why weren’t you invited? In late November, a group of elite bankers slipped away from their desks to join my editor and me for lunch at the Caprice restaurant in London’s fashionable West End. Those present included one of the wealthiest men in England, one of the most powerful men in England, a senior American investment banker running a wealth management business, a Swiss gnome and a gorgeous girl who works for one of the world’s top hedge funds. “Business lunches are supposed to be work. This was fun. What an eclectic and fascinating group of people,” a guest enthused in his thank-you note.

The purpose of the lunch was to mirror the purpose of this column: to step back from the demands of the day and review key financial trends, peppered by the odd morsel of market gossip. It is rare that financiers from different disciplines are able to exchange views, but they were emboldened by the chastity belt of Chatham House Rules (nothing spoken about is attributable). To qualify for an invitation you must be interesting, articulate and I must like you (which narrows the field considerably). One guest enjoyed himself so much that he muttered to me as lunch drew to a close: “Abigail, why can’t we do this every month?”

Several topics preoccupied my guests.

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