U.S. Bancorp, already producing some of the best results in American banking, couldn't quite satisfy investors with one of its latest numbers.
The Minneapolis company, operator of the nation's fifth largest bank, on Wednesday reported a 4 percent jump in profit for the third quarter and reached another goal of executives by having the company's revenue grow faster than expenses.
Even so, the company's stock fell about 1 percent on a day when other banking shares rose and the broader market reached another record high. Analysts zeroed in on slower-than-expected loan growth and executives' comments that it would likely stay at the same pace for the rest of the year.
"It is lower than what we would expect over the long term," Chief Executive Andy Cecere told analysts on a conference call. One reason, he said, is some borrowers are taking advantage of low interest rates to issue bonds and pay off bank loans. Another reason is that some borrowers are marking time to see what Congress and the Trump administration will do on tax reform.
"I think that will be a key driver of accelerated loan growth in 2018, when there is more clarity around tax policy," Cecere said.
Average loans grew 3 percent during the July-to-September quarter, slower than the 3.4 percent jump seen in the April-to-June period. Following two increases in interest rates this year, the company's net interest margin, the difference between interest income and the amount of interest paid to depositors, rose to 3.1 percent from 2.98 percent a year ago.
Executives also noted that the company's revenue grew at a faster pace than expenses, achieving what's known as positive operating leverage for the first time on a core basis since late 2014. The company reported positive operating leverage in the last quarter of 2015, but the figure was helped by a one-time issue. Now, executives think the company is structured to see positive operating leverage more regularly.
"The people are in place, the processes are in place and the technology is in place with respect to all of our risk management programs," Terry Dolan, chief financial officer, said in an interview. "And so we feel really good at this inflection point."
Its latest results were shaped by growth in its loan base and the effect of two increases in interest rates this year. Economists and market analysts are forecasting the Federal Reserve's rate-setting policy committee to make one more increase in December and two more in 2018, likely in the second half of the year. Dolan said the company is planning for those prospective hikes and for steady increases in U.S. economic growth.
U.S. Bancorp said it earned $1.56 billion, up from $1.5 billion in last year's third quarter. That amounted to diluted earnings per share of 88 cents, up from 84 cents a year ago and in line with the consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Zack's Investment Research.
Revenue grew 4 percent to $5.6 billion. U.S. Bank's efficiency ratio, which measures its ability to turn deposits and other resources into revenue, was 54.3 percent, an improvement of 2 basis points from a year ago.
Interest income grew 8.3 percent on a taxable-equivalent basis amid a 3 percent jump in its loan base. Noninterest income fell nearly 1 percent, which executives attributed to lower revenue from mortgage banking, which saw a flurry of refinancing activity a year ago.
At the moment, 70 percent of the company's mortgage activity is for the purchase of homes, rather than refinancing. "The growth being seen in home sales paints a good picture for us in mortgage banking space," Dolan said. "One of the things that's holding that back a bit is supply and inventory issues."