New York City-based Citigroup, the nation’s largest financial group, is taking over The Associates First Capital Corp., headquartered in Irving, TX, in a $29.4 billion pact announced yesterday.

Citigroup is considered the nation’s leading credit card issuer while The Associates handles private-label credit cards for powerhouse retailers and maintains a large consumer-based lending operation for home equity loans, personal loans and small-business loans. The merger will be financed via a tax-free stock exchange and is expected to close by year’s end. The deal is pending approval from federal and state regulators and shareholders.

The fate of Associates’ 8,000-member staff in North Texas remains uncertain. Citigroup has set aside about $600 million for layoffs, asset write-downs connected to the deal and facility closings. This morning is opening with talks to employees about the merger, which has been kept under wraps for better than a month while an agreement was being sealed.

The Associates, around since 1918, will lose its name in the takeover. Citigroup plans to operate the newly crafted consumer finance unit under the banner of CitiFinancial, which will have some 2,000 satellite offices in the US and carry about $50 billion in consumer loans. The Associates, a global entity, is ranked fifth among Japan’s consumer lending entities – a positioning that Citigroup officials say is enviable.

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