Banking stocks rose for the sixth straight day as the head of Citigroup Inc. said the banking giant was on its way to "sustained profitability."

The KBW Bank Index rose 1.72%, to 50.92, gaining 7% since last Thursday on unusually high trading volume.

The closely watched index of 24 large and midsize banks breached 50 for the first time since late 2008 on Wednesday.

Citi has been one of the main drivers, rising 75 cents — or nearly 22% — in the past week on reports the government may sell its stake in the lender. Thursday it rose 22 cents, or 5.56%, to $4.17 after its chief executive, Vikram Pandit, said the company was positioned for profitability as it sheds assets and eyes growth overseas.

Regional banks have also fared well recently after reports surfaced that Barclays PLC is looking to buy a U.S. retail bank.

Two companies pegged as potential takeover targets — PNC Financial Services Group Inc. and Fifth Third Bancorp — rose sharply after their top executives spoke at a financial services conference hosted by Citi.

PNC rose 1.81%, while Fifth Third rose 2.47%.

Other gainers included Comerica Inc., up 0.33%; BB&T Corp., 2.67%; KeyCorp., 4.23%; Zions Bancorp., 4.59%; U.S. Bancorp, 2.04%; Wells Fargo & Co., 0.64%; and JPMorgan Chase & Co., 0.58%.

The broader markets, meanwhile, advanced despite some mixed economic news. China said its inflation rate rose in February and the U.S. Labor Department said first-time unemployment claims fell last week, but by less than some economists had expected.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.42% and the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.4%.

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