The sale would be to private equity firms including Apollo Group, Blackstone Group LP and TPG, at an average price slightly below 90 cents on the dollar, the people said.

A sale could be made final by the time Citigroup reports first-quarter results on April 18, they said.

Citigroup, Apollo and TPG declined to comment. Blackstone was not immediately available for comment. The possible sale was earlier reported by the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal.

The average price for the most liquid leveraged loan was 90.47 cents on the dollar on Tuesday, Reuters LPC said.

A sale could help New York-based Citigroup dent its exposure to leveraged loans, which totaled about $43 billion at year end. Further sales are possible, one of the people said.

Like other banks, Citigroup issued the debt to help finance leveraged buyouts. Last summer’s credit crunch caused investors to stop buying much of this debt, leaving lenders stuck holding the debt on its books, often at below face value.

Last month, Oppenheimer & Co analyst Meredith Whitney estimated that 10 major investment banks, including Citigroup, had about $197 billion of leveraged lending exposure.

The industry’s exposure has dropped since the start of the credit crunch last summer.

Private equity firms, meanwhile, are looking for other ways to deploy cash amid a dearth of buyout opportunities. Earlier Tuesday, Washington Mutual Inc said it received a $7 billion capital infusion, including $2 billion from TPG. (Reuters)