March 11, 2009 in Nation/World

Citigroup’s good news rallying cry

Led by banking stocks, Dow advances 379 points
Sara Lepro And Tim Paradis Associated Press

NEW YORK – Wall Street snapped out of its stupor and posted its best performance of the year Tuesday, finding a badly needed glimmer of optimism in the most unlikely of places: Citigroup is actually managing to turn a profit.

The 379-point gain for the Dow Jones industrials, a rally of almost 6 percent, was a welcome break from almost uninterrupted selling. But just as almost nobody expects the banks to snap back to health, almost nobody thinks the market has hit its bottom.

“One day isn’t going to make a trend,” said Kurt Karl, chief U.S. economist at Swiss Re.

Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit said in a letter to employees that the bank had operated at a profit for the first two months of this year and was on track, based on historical trends, to make $8.3 billion for the quarter.

Pandit said the bank has had its best performance since the third quarter of 2007, the last time it booked a quarterly profit.

The news broke a months-long torrent of bad news from the banking industry – particularly for Citi, which had grown so shaky the federal government had to take a 36 percent ownership stake.

Banking stocks led the markets higher all day. The Dow finished at 6,926.49, its highest close since late February. All 30 of the Dow industrial stocks gained ground.

Citi itself finished at $1.45, a gain of 40 cents. Last week, its stock fell below $1, a level so stunning it left the bank at the mercy of late-night comedians.

A gain today would give the Dow its first two-day winning streak since early February. But Wall Street is used to false starts. The Dow had gained 200 points in a single day five times in 2009 before Tuesday. Each time, it lost ground in the next session, twice by triple digits.

And after they hit their lowest points last year, both the Dow and the Standard & Poor’s 500 jumped about 20 percent. But those lows didn’t last, and Wall Street is now trading well below those levels.

On Tuesday, the S&P closed at 719.60, still less than half of its value at the market peak in October 2007.

“I would be surprised to see us trade back over 800 in the near term,” said Ben Halliburton, chief investment officer of Tradition Capital Management in Summit, N.J. “The news coming out on the economic front will continue to be rather gloomy.”

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