After falling more than 3,000 points since Election Day, Wall Street had its best day of the year today, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumping 379 points. Today's stock surge was a bit of a relief for investors who have endured a slide for months.
"Feels terrific," said Bernie McSherry, a trader at the New York Stock Exchange. "There's euphoria in the air here today."
"I mean it's nice," said trader Jason Weisberg. "It's nice not to see a bloodbath on the screen."
The Dow hasn't had a gain this big since Nov. 24, 2008, when it rose nearly 400 points. All 30 Dow components were in positive territory for the day. The NASDAQ rose 90 points. But, the big question for analysts remains whether the gains will last.
Several analysts were cautiously optimistic that today's rally could mean the end of dreadful stock market declines.
"You're getting the sense down here that maybe, just maybe, this may have legs. That we're getting toward maybe a bottom," said Alan Valdes an NYSE trader.
The spark for today's monster rally was the unexpected announcement from the embattled banking giant, Citigroup. In a letter to employees today, CEO Vikram Pandit said that the company has actually been operating at a profit this year.
"We are profitable through the first two months of 2009 and are having our best quarter-to-date performance since the third quarter of 2007," Pandit wrote. "In January and February alone, our revenues, excluding externally disclosed marks, were $19 billion."
"Despite fairly significant unemployment, despite all the mounting debt issues, they are actually making money on a daily basis. That is the unexpected good news today," said Seamus McMahon, bank analyst at Bain & Co.
Beaten-down financial stocks staged a dramatic about-face. Shares of Citi soared 38 percent; Bank of America up 28 percent; JP Morgan Chase 23 percent; and General Electric, which has a huge finance arm, shot up 20 percent.
"They look at it, well, Citi can make money, then probably Bank of America, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, they all look healthy -- at least for the time being," Valdes explained.
Market Gains Signal Govt Bailout May Work
Shares of Citi are now at $1.45 after falling below $1 per share last week. Last month, the Treasury took as much as a 36 percent equity stake in Citigroup, marking its third attempt to save the bank from collapse.
Stocks also got a boost today from policymakers. Both Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said it's time to change the rules of stock trading to lower volatility and prevent investors from betting against a stock when it's in freefall.
"This is a big plus for the financial stocks; it's a big plus for the market generally," said Hugh Johnson, CEO of Johnson Illington Advisers. "It's going to take some of the piling-on pressure off of these stocks and give them a real chance to sort of lift."
Some analysts interpreted today's powerful rally -- especially in financial stocks -- as a sign that the trillions of dollars the government has committed to shoring up the financial system may be starting to work.
"It's often very difficult to figure out why the stock market turns," said Johnson. "But we reach those magical moments when investor confidence starts to recover and all of a sudden before you know it, we've got a new rally that could turn into a bull market. This just may be one of those magical moments."
But one day does not a trend make. Today's rally comes with an asterisk from analysts, who say that for confidence to stick, we'll need more gains in the coming weeks.