U.S. Bancorp has put aside another $1.7 billion to cover potential loan defaults, one more sign that the nation's biggest banks expect to see significant economic shocks in the months ahead due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The nation's fifth-largest bank's increase to its provision for credit losses in the second quarter comes on top of nearly $1 billion it set aside last quarter for the same purpose as the pandemic was just getting started.

Earlier this week, three of the nation's biggest banks — JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo — said they had also stockpiled nearly $30 billion for loan losses as they also prepared for more economic hardship to come.

Terry Dolan, U.S. Bancorp's chief financial officer, said unemployment levels have been higher than expected compared to initial projections back in March.

The bank now expects unemployment to remain at more elevated levels over a longer period of time, declining to 9% by the fourth quarter of this year and 7.8% by the end of 2021.

"Anytime you have unemployment at the level that it is, the ability for consumers to make their payments gets challenging," he said.

He added that the bank doesn't anticipate any future increases to its reserve fund, but there are still a lot of unknowns.

"At this point in the business cycle, especially when you are dealing with COVID and you don't know all of the different challenges in front of you, it's kind of like climbing a mountain in the fog," he said.

For U.S. Bancorp, the sizable provision for credit losses took a toll on its bottom line in the second quarter, with profits falling 62% to $689 million, or 41 cents a share, compared with $1.8 billion in the same quarter a year ago. But the results were better than analysts expected, sending its shares up nearly 4% on Wednesday.

"Our second-quarter earnings results were reflective of a more challenging economic environment than we have seen in some time," Andy Cecere, the company's CEO, said in a statement. "However, our diversified business mix generated healthy fee revenue growth, expenses were essentially flat, and capital and liquidity positions ended the quarter in a strong position."

The company's revenue of $5.8 billion was essentially flat in the quarter.

Its noninterest income rose 5%, driven primarily by growth in commercial products such as fees related to issuing corporate bonds as well as higher mortgage banking revenue due to refinancing activities.

Its net interest income, however, fell 3.2%, mostly due to lower interest rates even though its loan volume increased.

U.S. Bank noted that it has loaned $7.3 billion to more than 101,000 customers through the Paycheck Protection Program, with the average loan size being $73,000.

While not yet back up to pre-pandemic levels, executives also noted that they have seen improvements in consumer spending in recent months, a trend they expect to continue in coming months.

Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113