If Scotland's Royal Bank Dumps Units, Citizens Seen Safe

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Byline: Matthew Monks

Royal Bank of Scotland PLC may try to hold on to Citizens Financial Group, its Providence, R.I., banking unit, analysts said last week after reports swirled that the embattled Edinburgh company might sell Charter One Financial Inc.

The British media reported last week that Royal Bank is looking to sell Cleveland-based Charter One - which Citizens, its U.S. subsidiary, bought in 2004 - as part of an effort to sell noncore assets in Asia and the United States and appease U.K. regulators, the company's biggest stakeholder.

However, analysts said that RBS probably views Citizens, acquired in 1988, as a more desirable franchise given its presence on the East Coast.

"My hunch is that [Charter One] is the least profitable," said Mike Trippitt, a banking analyst at Oriel Securities in London. If Royal Bank "is going to cut back, it makes sense for that to be the area for them to do it."

Citizens Financial operates 1,600 branches, including 400 with the Charter One brand in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan. The Citizens brand operates in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

A Royal Bank spokesman declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for Citizens Financial did not return a call for comment.

Pawel Uszko, a banking analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Caronia Waller LLC in London, said Royal Bank is now paring its overseas presence under pressure from the U.K. government, which owns a 70% stake in the company.

Royal Bank's U.S. banking division had $161 billion of assets and $97 billion in deposits at the end of the first quarter of 2008. It does not break out earnings for Charter One and has not yet reported full-year 2008 earnings. Overall income from its U.S. banking operations was $2. …