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10 December 2023

World stocks mostly rally on Citigroup report

Global stock markets mostly rebounded Monday on the back of a report that the US government was poised to take a 25-40 per cent stake in troubled banking giant Citigroup.

Equities had plunged before the weekend as investors fretted over the struggling financial sector and a spreading economic downturn, analysts said.

Hong Kong jumped 3.8 per cent higher on Monday, tracking a rally on the Shanghai bourse, dealers said.

And nearing the half-way stage in Europe, Frankfurt was up 1.09 per cent, Paris 1.01 per cent and London 0.25 per cent.

On the downside, Tokyo sank to a near four-month low as the failure of a Japanese money-lender and the poor health of US banks depressed sentiment.

"It looked as though markets would begin this week in the red but sentiment turned quickly following a press report that the US government could take a stake of as much as 40 per cent in Citigroup," said Calyon analyst Mitul Kotecha.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed people familiar with the situation, said US President Barack Obama's administration was in talks that could boost its Citigroup holding from 7.8 per cent in return for fresh capital.

London shares were also lifted by weekend reports that Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) would axe 20,000 jobs worldwide and sell off various assets this Thursday when it is due to post a record 28-billion-pound loss for 2008.

The Sunday Telegraph said RBS, which is about 70 per cent state-owned, would split in two so that some 300 billion pounds of assets can be ring-fenced in a "bad bank" subsidiary.

In morning trade, RBS shares surged 13.99 per cent to 22.00 pence, while Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group added 7.88 per cent and 7.82 per cent to stand at 102.70 pence and 60.70 pence respectively.

British banks were also in favour after state-owned group Northern Rock announced that it will lend an additional 14 billion pounds to struggling homebuyers in the next two years.

Northern Rock, taken into public ownership one year ago after it ran into severe funding problems because of the credit crunch, added in a statement that it would suffer a pre-tax loss of 1.4 billion pounds for 2008.

"Equity markets are in for something of a defining week, not least amongst the banks, where a series of government measures are expected to be announced," said Matt Buckland, dealer at spead-betting firm CMC Markets.

"RBS will report those shocking full-year results and there's also speculation that across the Atlantic the Fed will extend its stake in Citigroup."

He added: "General consensus, however, seems to be one of pessimism and the distressed state of the global economy doesn't seem as if it is about to change quickly."

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that a substantial portion of the $45 billion in preferred shares held by the US government would be converted into common stock.

The government has already obtained a 7.8-per cent stake in the bank in return for pumping capital into Citigroup.

In October, the US Treasury poured $125 billion into eight financial giants including $25 billion for Citigroup, in exchange for preferred shares and warrants to buy stock.

"There are expectations that ...  this template might be followed across the sector," added NCB analyst Bernard McAlinden.

"Asian financials benefited from the associated prospect of greater stability in the global financial system, although the bankruptcy of Japanese small business lender SFCG and rumours that Toshiba will raise new equity funding were negative."

In Japan's largest bankruptcy this year, corporate money-lender SFCG went under with debts of more than 3.6 billion dollars, spooking investors.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei-225 index fell 0.54 per cent to 7,376.16, the lowest closing level since October 27.

Meanwhile over the weekend, the heads of Europe's largest economies agreed on the need for greater regulation of financial markets and to double IMF funding to avoid a repeat of the global economic crisis.

The leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands met on Sunday in Berlin to hammer out a joint European stance for the Group of 20 meeting of developed and developing countries in London on April 2.