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Bank shares help world markets extend rally

 A man walks in front of an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock ave...
 A woman walks in front of an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock a...
 A man walks in front of an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock ave...

Japan Markets

A man walks in front of an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock ave...

Japan Markets

A woman walks in front of an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock a...

Japan Markets

A man walks in front of an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock ave...

European and Asian stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday as sentiment remained relatively well-supported by upbeat comments from Citigroup's chief executive, who claimed in a internal company memo that the ailing U.S. banking giant has had a good start to 2009.
However, ongoing concerns about the world economy _ illustrated by a sharp fall in Chinese exports in February _ and doubts about the sustainability of the stock market rally capped the buying.
"We are maybe seeing some skepticism that this rally will peter out as so many have in the past," said Keith Bowman, an equities strategist at stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown in London.
The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares, which jumped nearly 5 percent Tuesday, was up another 10.28 points, or 0.3 percent, at 3,725.51, while Germany's DAX, which did even better in the previous session, rose a further 55.07 points, or 1.4 percent, to 3,942.05. The CAC-40 in France was 41.97, or 1.6 percent, at 2,705.65.
In Asia, Japan's Nikkei index joined in the rally, having fallen to a 26-year low in the previous trading session. It closed 321.14 points, or 4.6 percent, higher at 7,376.12 on Wednesday. Meanwhile Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rallied further, up another 236.61 points, or 2 percent, to 11,930.66.
The catalyst for the latest rally was a letter earlier this week from Citigroup Chief Executive Vikram Pandit to employees saying the bank posted its best operating profit in the first two months of the year since the third quarter of 2007, when it last booked a quarterly profit.
Investors, desperate for any positive signs about the ailing financial system, latched onto the positive news, especially as Citigroup has lost so much money the U.S. government has been forced to extend billions in aid and take a 36 percent stake in the banking giant.
Financial stocks around the world continued to be the main beneficiaries from Citigroup's news. In Britain, Barclays PLC was up another 8 percent, while Deutsche Bank AG and Commerzbank AG both rose a further 7 percent.
In Asia, leading Japanese bank Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. gained 4.1 percent, while HSBC in Hong Kong advanced a further 2 percent, continuing its recovery form Monday's 24 percent plunge.
The renewed optimism in the markets was expected to continue at the U.S. open. Dow futures were up another 66 points, or 1 percent, at 6,953, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures rose 8.9 points, or 1.2 percent, to 724.90.
On Tuesday, Wall Street posted its best performance of the year, with the Dow Jones industrials surging 379 points, or about 5.8 percent, to 6,926.49 while the S&P 500 index advanced 43.07 points, 6.4 percent, to 719.6.
The relief at Citigroup's performance was tempered somewhat by the news that China saw exports slump in the year to February as a result of waning global demand. Mainland China's main market in Shanghai ended 0.9 percent lower at 2,139.03.
Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea's Kospi rose 35.31, or 3.2 percent, to 1,127.51. Benchmarks in Australia and Taiwan were up 1.9 percent; Singapore's gained 1.3 percent.
Oil prices were lower, with light, sweet crude for April delivery down 45 cents at $45.26 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.36 to settle at $45.71 a barrel overnight.
The dollar weakened 0.2 percent to 98.42 yen while the euro rose 0.3 percent to $1.2715.
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AP Business Writer Jeremiah Marquez in Hong Kong contributed to this report.