Slower mortgage activity dampens U.S. Bank profits

A 2.2 percent profit decline is the largest in nearly five years.

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US Bancorp experienced only its second profit drop in nearly five years during the first quarter.

Photo: GEORGE FREY, BLOOMBERG

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Mortgages are weighing heavily on both U.S. Ban­corp and larger rival Bank of America Corp., although for very different reasons.

Bank of America swung to a loss in quarterly results it announced Wednesday on mortgage-related legal costs, as that lender tries to make things right with the government over past home loan sins.

For Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank, the ongoing falloff in mortgage banking activity continues to eat at its profits.

U.S. Bank, the nation’s No. 5 commercial bank, on Wednesday reported net in­come of $1.4 bil­lion, or 73 cents per share, in the first quarter, sput­tering 2.2 percent lower from a year ago. It was the se­cond, and larg­est, prof­it de­cline in near­ly five years for the lender, one of the banking in­dus­try’s most con­sis­tent play­ers.

Like most banks, U.S. Bank has been coping with fall­ing rev­e­nue in a lum­ber­ing eco­nom­ic re­cov­er­y with low in­ter­est rates and cau­tious busi­ness bor­row­ers. Both in­ter­est in­come, from old-fash­ioned loans, and noninterest in­come, from a range of ser­vices and fees, slid, despite solid growth in commercial loans.

Prof­its got a lift from trimming ex­pens­es, and a $35 million re­lease from the bank’s re­serves for fu­ture bad loans.

Investors sent shares of both banks down Wednesday even as major stock indexes rose. U.S. Bank shares closed down 1.3 percent at $40.47. Bank of America shares fell 1.6 percent to close at $16.13.

“It was just kind of a lack­lus­ter quar­ter for U.S. Bank,” said Shan­non Stemm, a bank an­a­lyst at Ed­ward Jones. “Investors may­be just don’t see a cata­lyst here in the short term.”

U.S. Bank al­read­y is one of the in­dus­try’s most ef­fi­cient banks and can’t pull that lev­er much to boost growth, Stemm not­ed.

“Investors might be look­ing to some of the oth­er re­gion­al banks that trade at low­er valu­ations,” Stemm said.

U.S. Bank post­ed strong, broad-based loan growth as it swiped busi­ness from com­peti­tors. Key driv­ers in­clud­ed re­tail leas­ing, cred­it cards and com­mer­cial real es­tate loans. Se­at­tle, San Francisco, Los An­ge­les and Or­ange County have been par­tic­u­lar­ly ac­tive, executives said.

Even resi­den­tial mort­gages were up 14 percent, though still slow­ing and off the ex­tremes of the refinance boom.

CEO Rich­ard Da­vis told in­dus­try ana­lysts Wednes­day that he ex­pects to continue grow­ing total av­er­age loans at the high end of the 1 to 1.5 percent range from quar­ter to quar­ter. “We’re ac­tu­al­ly see­ing some slight but con­tinued im­prov­ing,” Da­vis said.

Da­vis said faster growth “is prob­a­bly a few years out but may start in the last half of 2014.”

Several of the bank’s business lines showed strong growth. Profits in the company’s large treasury and corporate support operation rose 8 percent from a year ago, and rose 11 percent in payment services. Profits in the bank’s small but growing wealth management and securities services line jumped 41 percent.

 

Jen­ni­fer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683

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