Citigroup, the country's third-largest bank, on Monday turned in a third-quarter performance that beat Wall Street expectations and pushed its stock higher.
But executives were more cautious about the future than their stock price might suggest. On a conference call, Sanford C. Bernstein analyst John McDonald asked them what they'd need to feel more comfortable about the economy.
Chief financial officer John Gerspach replied that one cause for concern, among others, was the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of the year. That is when U.S. tax rates are set to rise and government spending to drop, unless Congress can work out a compromise before then. Gerspach also wasn't too certain that an upturn in mortgages, which dominated earnings reports from JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo last week, would be enough to rescue a struggling economy.
CITIGROUP CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER JOHN GERSPACH: "Get through the fiscal cliff and then the secondary factor would be that you'd like to see an economy that has got some real legs to it, one that's capable of creating jobs and actually driving down the real unemployment rate. I don't think we're in an economy where you're going to have housing lead the economy. I think you need the economy right now to lead the housing markets, and I'm not quite sure as to exactly how much of a robust nature we've got ... at this point in time."