Google and Citigroup Rise After Great Retail Sales Report

Happy Tax Day. Now that you've sent the IRS your dues, treat yourself to a couple of Twinkies and check out what sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average  up 146 points Monday to end its two-day losing streak. (Hint: retail sales looked gooood.)

1. Citigroup earnings surprisingly beat expectations
Citibank is New York's bright star despite the Mets' 2-4 record at Citifield in Queens. Earnings at the NYC-based jumbo bank rose 3.5% in the first quarter, bucking a pattern of shrinking profits from its peers. Fewer loans that Citigroup  issued went belly up, and more unneeded expenses got cut. The $3.9 billion in profits for January-March 2014 was a much-needed boost in Citi's confidence after failing the stress test earlier in the year.

But don't forget the "F" on Citi's report card from the Federal Reserve's stress test released on March 26. Citi stock fell about 6% the next day on news that the Fed denied Citi's plans to return profits to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks. Citi was bummed that the Fed didn't believe in the bank's health, and shareholders were bummed that Citi embarrassingly failed another test.

Not surprisingly, the trading division was as disappointing as a freelancers' hope for a tax return. Buying and selling of bonds, stocks, and other pieces of paper that represent debt/ownership of companies -- aka "securities trading" -- used to be the high-flying business that gave Wall Street its mojo. But lower trading volumes continue to deplete these once mighty revenue sources for big Banks. But while JPMorgan Chase's bond and stock trading revenue fell 21% and 3% for the quarter, Citi's bond trading was down just 18% and stock trading actually rose 15%. That's a win.

International business is hugely important for Citi. It may call the U.S. home, but it's as active in exotic markets as a Hangover movie sequel. Because of troubling potential fraud in its Mexican unit and general weakness, international revenues fell. There's not too much positive in this summary, proving that Citibank must be a champion cost-cutter during challenging market times. Shareholders rewarded the company with a huge 4.4% stock boost Tuesday.

2. March retail sales impress
Spring has sprung for retailers across America. After rebounding slightly in February, U.S. retail sales jumped 1.1% in March to a seasonally adjusted $433.9 billion, according to the Commerce Department -- that's a whole lot of Big Brown Bloomingdale's bags and much more than the 0.8% growth that economists' expected. Plus, it's the biggest monthly gain since September 2012.

Interestingly, the weakness in retail sales was in electronics goods (better weather = less Mario Kart on your PlayStation) -- But the key strength was in furniture, home furnishings, building materials, and garden equipment. In addition to making home-improvement guru Bob Vila proud, the data indicates how much an improving housing market can affect other aspects of the economy.

The takeaway is that like Ron Burgundy, retail sales are a big deal -- consumer spending drives over two-thirds of all U.S. economic output. And although retail sales improved all of last year through November, that painful, polar vortex-induced winter weather discouraged consumers from hitting stores through January. With March's retail figures up a notable 3.8% from last year, Wall Street's now hoping the retail rebound will pump up second-quarter U.S. GDP.

3. Google enters the drone business
It only seems natural that Google acquired a leading manufacturer of unmanned drone aircraft Monday. Google's newest toy is called Titan Aerospace, a New Mexico-based developer of unmanned aircraft that are supposed to run for long periods on solar energy and battery storage. 

Facebook almost bought it earlier in the year, according to tech magazines like PC World. While Mark Zuckerberg went with another start-up to quench his unmanned cravings, Google snatched Titan for an undisclosed price Monday. 

Google needs more pics for Google Maps. And these nifty, supermodel-thin aircraft will cruise at low altitudes 24/7/365 without needing to land (thanks, sun) ... and imagine the footage these cameras will record. Before you know it, you will be using Google Maps and these drones to monitor your dome's battle against baldness.

Developing economies need more Internet, according to Google. The other dream is to develop the drones into flying Internet and cell-phone towers. In the developing world, your connection to the Internet is dependent on local IT infrastructure. If Google has anything to say about it, that will change. Google stock was up 0.4% during the day. 


  • The Fed's "Empire State" New York Manufacturing Survey
  • 1st-quarter earnings reports: Charles SchwabPep Boys, Johnson & JohnsonYahoo!Coca-Cola

MarketSnacks Fact of the Day: 

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Jack Kramer and Nick Martell have no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola, Facebook, Google (A and C shares), Johnson & Johnson, and Yahoo!; owns shares of Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Facebook, Google (A and C shares), Johnson & Johnson, and JPMorgan Chase; and has options on Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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