As 2003 draws to a close, Citigroup Global Markets has a seemingly insurmountable lead on its competitors in the U.S. asset-backed underwriter rankings, according to preliminary numbers maintained by Thomson Financial. With $62.4 billion of ABS sold through the middle of last week, Citigroup has a rough $10 billion lead on its nearest competitor, and an 11.3% market share.

This represents a return to glory for the former Salomon Smith Barney, which also finished as the leading ABS underwriter in 2000 and 2001, before finishing third in 2002. Additionally, Citigroup was the second most active underwriter coming down the home stretch, pricing over $15 billion in 4Q03.

The battle for second place remains tight, however, with reigning champ JPMorgan Securities, Credit Suisse First Boston and Lehman Brothers separated by roughly $2 billion - a deficit easily overcome with a single transaction, as has happened each of the past two years.

Last year, JPMorgan claimed the top spot after pricing a $1.5 billion Chase CCMT credit card transaction on Dec. 30. On New Year's Eve 2001Citi/SSB reopened an outstanding Citibank credit card transaction for $500 million.

JPMorgan has a tentative hold on second place, with $52.7 billion, about $1 billion ahead of CSFB, which has roughly $51.8 billion of league table credit. Lehman sits in fourth, having sold $50.4 billion. The trio accounts for between 9.1% and 9.5% of the ABS new-issue market.

Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank Securities are in a heated competition for the fifth spot, with $44.5 and $42.4 billion of ABS sold, with two weeks to go in the year.

Rounding out the top 10 are Banc of America Securities, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and RBS Greenwich Capital Markets.

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