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Citigroup Is a Strong Buy: Poll

Hedge fund masters George Soros and John Paulson think Citigroup shares are a buy, and so do readers of TheStreet.

(Citigroup poll results article updated with Monday morning stock prices and additional analysis and commentary on Citigroup.)



) -- This past week could well be dubbed famed-investor-cheat-sheet-week for the average investor, who in most other weeks is stuck on Main Street with no more than his copy of the



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portfolio, and friends and advice-givers on



Warren Buffett,

George Soros and

John Paulson all released their quarterly portfolio changes in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Among all the notable buys and sells from the grand masters of American -- and Hungarian -- capitalism, were big bets placed on


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by hedge fund gurus Paulson and Soros. Paulson -- who has already called his shot as far as a recovery in the U.S. banking sector with existing big stakes in Citi and

Bank of America

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-- bought another 200 million shares of Citi in the fourth quarter.

Soros matched Paulson's bullish call on Citi, with his hedge fund taking its first big stake in Citigroup, buying up 95 million shares in the fourth quarter. Soros' Citi buying spree equaled $313 million worth of Citi shares at year's end.

The combined 300 million Citigroup shares snatched up by the hedge fund greats certainly caught the attention of the markets, as Citi was up more than 4% on the day after the SEC filings were made.

Citi began last week at $3.18 and closed on Friday at $3.42 -- the highest closing price for Citi since Jan. 20. An hour before the opening bell on Monday morning, shares of Citi are up 2 cents, at $3.44.

Still, as a great as an investor's reputation may be, investing hindsight only goes so far in providing the investing masses with market intelligence, and fourth quarter buys are not distant, but still recent, history. Nevertheless, if you look back through Citigroup shares historical pricing in the fourth quarter, the hedge fund managers may have been buying shares at a price higher than the price Citigroup shares closed at on Friday.

Citigroup shares were above $4 for most of the fourth quarter, and did not reach a level near Friday's close of $3.42 until Dec. 16. Possibly Paulson and Soros were buying Citigroup shares in droves in the final two weeks of the fourth quarter.

Even if they were doing their buying in the final weeks, it would still mean that investors buying this week would be getting into Citigroup shares at a price equivalent to where the masters of the investing universe believe Citigroup shares are priced right.

Maybe investing hindsight is 20/20 in the case of the hedge funds and Citi.

In that case, it's fair to ask whether Citigroup's current share price, coupled with the fact that investing luminaries Soros and Paulson liked it at what was at least an equivalent if not even higher price, makes for an attractive banking-sector buy -- for everyone but Meredith Whitney, that is.

So we asked the banking-hawk community of



Do you think George Soros and John Paulson are right, and Citigroup is a buy?

Now, before getting to the results, let's at least provide a modicum of caution: there are not only a fair share of banking sector hawks out there among


readers, but a fair share of


readers with large share positions in Citigroup who would like to see nothing more than the value of their shares go ever-higher.

So it is with this caveat that the survey of


readers reports that 77% of survey takers think Citigroup shares are a strong buy, even with the Soros and Paulson moves amounting to no more than an investing rearview mirror.

Only 4% of survey takers indicated that now is time to dump Citigroup shares, and one can imagine that

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' Lloyd Blankfein,

Morgan Stanley's

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John Mack, and

JPMorgan Chase's

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Jamie Dimon, are probably among this select group.

Notable alongside the Citigroup bulls was that a combined 19% of survey takers did express a level of caution about Citigroup's outlook.

Approximately 12% of respondents said that while the currently hold Citigroup shares, they would not add to their positions. While another 7% of survey respondents said that they remain ambivalent about Citigroup shares, and believe the U.S. banking sector offers better buys.

-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.


>>Soros Matches Paulson Bet on Citi

>>Buffett: Mr. Sell?

>>Poll: Will it be China or Europe to Blame for Next Crash?

>>See our new stock quote page.

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