Citigroup ( C) posted first-quarter profit of $1.6 billion versus a loss the year before, but before you celebrate you should check what kind of stock you own.

If you're a preferred shareholder, say like the U.S. government, then you're in the money!

If you're a common shareholder, then you get nothing. Actually, you get less than nothing. You get a loss of 18 cents a share.

After cutting out $1.3 billion to reset the conversion price of preferred stock issued in January 2008, paying another $1.3 billion in preferred dividends and booking a cost of $53 million related to participation in the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, Citigroup's profit turned into a net loss of $966 million.

That's not the headline number, but it's the real number. Citi can talk all it wants about posting a net income, but the reality for ordinary shareholders is the company lost money. That is the bottom line.

Now I'm not saying there's nothing to like about Citi's earnings. The $9.5 billion in revenue and $2.8 billion in profit from the institutional clients group in the first quarter is encouraging, especially considering the bank posted a $6.4 billion loss from those operations the year before. That's the bright spot.

There are also some dark spots, such as the $13.1 billion in write downs, which include almost $7 billion related to bad subprime and Alt-A mortgages and $3 billion for "highly leveraged finance commitments."

All in all, Citi is still a long way from the record net income of $5.9 billion it posted in 2007. So common shareholders will have to keep waiting to get their reward for sticking with the bank.

But if you're a desperate optimist looking for good news about the health of the financial sector, there are glimmers of hope in Citi's earnings, which follow positive profit news yesterday from JPMorgan Chase ( JPM)and from Wells Fargo ( WFC) last week.

Now we're waiting to see what Bank of America ( BAC) will have to say on Monday.

Hall is the editor of TheStreet.com. Previously, he served as deputy editor and chief innovation officer at The Orange County Register and as a news manager at Bloomberg News in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Washington, D.C. As a reporter, he covered business and financial markets, worked in both print and television in the U.S. and Europe, and conducted in-depth investigative coverage at The Journal-Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. His work also has been published in a variety of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and International Herald Tribune. Hall received a bachelor�s degree in journalism and political science from The Ohio State University and has taken graduate management science courses at Boston University.

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