Banking stocks were leading the way Wednesday morning as executives of the nation's biggest financial institutions testified before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee today. Vikram Pandit of Citigroup and seven other bank CEOs were summoned to Washington to account for how they have used money from the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.


Lawmakers were seeking to get the banks to lend more aggressively. “I urge you strongly to cooperate with us, not grudgingly, not doing the minimum,” House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said today at the hearing. “There is a substantial public anger and alleviating that public anger, not with mumbo jumbo but with reality, is essential if we’re going to have the support of the country.”


Democratic House and Senate leaders apparently are near agreement on a $789.5 billion economic stimulus plan, according to a report by Bloomberg. “The White House believes we are making good progress toward an agreement on a plan to put Americans back to work,” administration spokesman Robert Gibbs said.


The XLF financial sector ETF was recently trading higher by 3.82% and that was helping the overall indexes to modest gains. The DOW was recently up by 0.85% and the S&P 0.9%, while the technology-focused NASDAQ was gaining 0.62%.


The dollar made a huge run against the higher-yielding currencies yesterday after Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's speech failed to provide details regarding the government's plan to rescue troubled banks. The greenback was still moving up against the euro, pound and Australian dollar on the day, but had given back some of the gains as Wall Street advanced. It was also higher on the day against the yen.


Crude for March delivery was still trading lower on the day even after the weekly report on oil inventories showed that demand for gasoline improved for a second straight week, down 19 cents (-0.6%) in recent trading to $37.41 per barrel.


Gold has continued its massive run with another strong showing on the day. April futures were recently up $30.30 (3.32%) to $944.00 per ounce.