Tickers in this Article: C, BAC, ROH, FCX, CME
March 2009 was the month that investors have been waiting for. The S&P 500 returned 8.5% during March - the best monthly performance since late 2002. Financial stocks dominated the list of large-cap winners (defined as those with a market capitalization of more than $10 billion). This makes sense since these names have been beaten up the most during the bear market.

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The two banks on the list of top performers, Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), were up an astounding 110% and 88.4% in March, respectively. Both names were extremely volatile during the month as investors speculated on whether the institutions were technically insolvent based on the upcoming stress tests that the Obama Administration would be performing on them. However, during the most oversold part of the month, a huge bottom fishing rally in the overall market and Financials began, and these names benefited greatly from that rally. There was also some short covering from investors who either were satisfied with profits, or feared a short squeeze and decided to close out positions.

The third financial on the list was the CME Group (NYSE:CME), which was up 43.87% for the month. CME Group operates two futures exchanges, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the Chicago Board of Trade. CME Group peaked at nearly $700 a share back in December 2007, before hitting its low of $153.59. The stock benefited from the financial and market rally, but it doesn't seem that short covering propelled this stock since only 3% of its shares were sold short. It was more likely interest from investors who liked the companies business model, and saw the more reasonable valuation of 15-times earnings an attractive entry point that made the impact here. (To make sure you know the difference between a change in market outlook and short-term recovery, read The Dead Cat Bounce: A Bear In Bull's Clothing?)

There were some special circumstances to explain the 49.18% gain for Rohm & Hass (NYSE:ROH) in March 2009. The company was subject to a takeover offer from Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) in July 2008 for $15.3 billion, or $78 a share. When the recession began in earnest later in 2008, Dow Chemical tried to renegotiate the price down. Rohm & Hass resisted and eventually, in early March 2009, announced that it would go through with the deal, albeit on slightly different terms.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (NYSE:FCX) returned a strong 43.87% in March 2009, and there wasn't any company-specific news to account for the strong performance. Gold is typically seen as a safe haven investment in times of investor worry, so it is counterintuitive to see a gold stock move higher during a strong market rally. The company is also a major copper producer - a metal which has many industrial uses - so it is likely that investors bid the stock up anticipating an economic recovery. (This asset's appeal dates back thousands of years. To find out whether it can live up to the hype, check out The Copper King: An Empire Built On Manipulation.)

Although the performance of the market in March was a welcome relief for investors, it is not clear if the rally is sustainable, or is instead, the bane of all investors - a bear market rally. Investors will look for clues in upcoming earnings reports and economic releases before deciding that question.

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