Updated to include Pandit's statements, added information about the results.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Citigroup ( C) Monday reported a surprise profit for the first quarter driven by improving revenue, lower credit costs and tighter expense controls.

The company posted a profit of $4.4 billion, or 15 cents a share, on revenue of $25.4 billion, for the three months ended in March.

The company said these results exclude the impact of a $10.1 billion pre-tax loss from the TARP repayment and exit of the loss-sharing agreement with the U.S. government in the fourth quarter.

"Citi today is fundamentally a very different company from what it was only two years ago," said Vikram Pandit, the company's CEO, in a statement. "With its financial strength, strategic clarity, efficiency, world-class business talent, and unique global footprint, Citi is well positioned to benefit from the key drivers of economic growth in developed and emerging markets.

The average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters was for breakeven results in the March period on revenue of $20.8 billion. In the fourth quarter of 2009, Citigroup lost $7.8 billion, or 33 cents a share.

Citigroup said its provision for credit losses for the three months ended in March was $8.6 billion, a decline of $2.6 billion on a sequential basis, and its lowest provision since the first quarter of 2008. The company said its total allowance for loan losses stood at $48.7 billion at quarter's end.

Pandit said, however, that Citigroup remains "cautious" about the business environment, citing uncertainty about the U.S. economy's recovery and continued high unemployment levels, and seemed to want to tamp down near-term expectations somewhat.

"Realistically, we do not expect our performance to follow an invariable trend-line upward," Pandit said. "Longer-term, however, the prospects for Citi are clear and bright."

Revenue from the company's core Citicorp operations totaled $18.52 billion, up 35% on a sequential basis, while its "bad bank" Citi Holdings operations posted revenue of $6.55 billion, up 26% from its fourth-quarter total.

Through Friday's close at $4.56, Citigroup shares are up 38% year-to-date, although the stock did pull back late last week after breaking through $5 in intraday action on Thursday for the first time since mid-October.

-- Written by Michael Baron in New York.

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