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They Just Don't Get Citigroup!

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. (TheStreet) -- Much of the media engaged in a game of Mad Libs on Citigroup's (C - Get Report) earnings, reported yesterday. The given text involved Citigroup's earnings, 74% and $3.8 billion. The media just had to supply the excited verb. Look at The New York Times, which went with: "Citigroup Earnings Rise 74% to $3.8 Billion." The Financial Times, for its part, ran a slight variant: "Citigroup earnings jump 74% to $3.8bn."

The only problem? Well, it's a biggie. The 74% and $3.8 billion were the product of a $1.9 billion, one-time accounting fluke. Using the 74%/$3.8 billion as a showcase headline is delusional, something only the media--no trader--would do.

Indeed, traders promptly took the stock down. Citigroup warned about long-term emerging market weakness and bloating costs. Meanwhile, the housing market still stinks and investment banking was grim. Still, the media kept trying to force the impressive looking numbers down gullets, even when (yes, Wall Street Journal, I'm talking to you) you could totally sense they were trying to come to terms with the dichotomy between what they were trumpeting and what investors saw: "Citi Shines, but Investors Shrug - Bank Shares Fall Despite Strong Earnings From the New York Lender."

Do you really think that if Citigroup had been a legitimately shining star investors would have shrugged? No matter--the Journal was off compounding the confusion in its lead: "Citigroup Inc.'s third quarter was a bright spot in what is shaping up as a lackluster earnings season for banks."

With apologies to overreaction both up and down, one-time charges should never rule the day's thoughts. Look beyond them, even when the media fails to.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.

Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page.

For his "Business Press Maven" column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Fuchs appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.

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