ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a big investor in Citigroup, urged the U.S. government to sell its stake in the bank as soon as this year to boost investor confidence, Emerging Markets magazine reported. "The earlier the U.S. government exits its investments in those companies, the better," as long as the withdrawal is not done in a way that hurts the prices of U.S. banking stocks, the Saudi billionaire was quoted as saying in an interview published on Sunday. "We need to give confidence back to the shareholders and investors that these companies are moving along without government support." A series of bailouts during the financial crisis has left the U.S. government with a 34 percent stake in Citigroup, after the bank obtained $45 billion from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program. Sources told Reuters last month that Citigroup was talking to U.S. officials about how the government should shed its 7.7 billion shares in the bank. Alwaleed, who owns part of Citigroup through his investment firm Kingdom Holding Co, has said little in recent months about the stake. Kingdom owned 3.6 percent of the bank in July 2007 and five months later Alwaleed said he was among investors who agreed to put more money into the bank. OPERATING PROFIT Citigroup is expected to return to the black on an operating basis next year at the earliest, Alwaleed was quoted as saying in the interview. "Citigroup has learned a huge lesson. The worst is behind them right now," Alwaleed said, adding that the bank's $100 billion of tangible common equity, "the highest in the industry," and the large scope of its operations meant its future was "very bright." http://www.reuters.com/article/ousivMolt/idUSTRE5930HF20091004 Is this a strong buy recommendation, or ?