First-quarter reports from three large banks on Tuesday suggest that for many banks, last year's margin and revenue growth hurdles did not fade with the turning of the calendar.
A couple of exceptions have emerged. Wells Fargo & Co. reported decent loan growth and said its margin improved in the quarter. But more typical were the reports from Regions Financial Corp., SunTrust Banks Inc., and U.S. Bancorp, all of which said net slipped either from the year-earlier period or the fourth quarter.
None of the three were upbeat about a near-term rebound.
"We don't think the inflection point has hit yet. God I wish it had, but it hasn't," said Richard K. Davis, U.S. Bancorp's chief executive. "To my surprise the loan yields continue to come down further from where they were 90 days ago."
On his own call with analysts, Mark Chancy, SunTrust's chief financial officer, concurred.
"The challenging economic environment has continued and actually intensified," and there is "no improvement in sight," Mr. Chancy said.
All three companies faced tough competition for deposits, an inverted yield curve, and deteriorating credit quality. None managed to grow both loans and deposits in the first quarter.
Regions' loan portfolio shrank 0.4% from the fourth quarter, to $94.2 billion, largely because of a $700 million decline in commercial real estate mortgages. The $138 billion-asset company's deposits fell 5.8%, to $95.3 billion.
The $186 billion-asset SunTrust also took hits to both loans and deposits. Loans fell 3.8% from the fourth quarter, to $116.9 billion. Deposits slid 0.5%, to $123.4 billion. The Atlanta company cut its 2007 guidance for revenue and balance-sheet growth, saying loans could be flat compared with 2006 and deposit growth could be in the low single digits.
U.S. Bancorp's loan portfolio grew 0.8% compared with the fourth quarter, to $144.8 billion, but deposits at the $221 billion-asset company shrank by 5.4%, to $118.1 billion.
Higher funding costs chipped away at U.S. Bancorp's margin, which contracted 5 basis points from the fourth quarter and 29 basis points from a year earlier, to 3.51%.
U.S. Bancorp's earnings fell 5% from the fourth quarter and 2% from a year earlier, to $1.13 billion. Earnings per share of 63 cents were 2 cents below the average analyst estimate, according to Thomson Financial.
Citigroup Inc. analyst Keith Horowitz wrote in a note that the Minneapolis company's miss "was broad based."
"The only offset was more aggressive share buybacks," he wrote.
At Regions, of Birmingham, Ala., the margin shrank 11 basis points from the fourth quarter and 17 basis points from a year earlier, to 3.99%. Alton Yother, Regions' chief financial officer, said he expects the margin to average 3.85% throughout this year. Deposit pricing "remains the biggest variable," he said.
SunTrust's margin expanded by 8 basis points from a quarter earlier, to 3.02%, though the company credited the use of a new fair-value accounting standard to reposition its balance sheet at a $59.5 million gain.
Exposure to nontraditional mortgages cut into earnings at both SunTrust and Regions. SunTrust had a $26.6 million loss from its alternative-A business, which included the sale of nonperforming loans and price adjustments from repurchases. Last year the company tightened standards, and in this year's first quarter alt-A loans made up 6% of mortgage production, down from 14% in the fourth quarter and 22% a year earlier.
Regions lost $141 million from the operations at EquiFirst Corp., the subprime lender it sold on March 30 to Barclays PLC.
Regions' profit fell 7.9% from fourth quarter, though it rose 13% from a year earlier, to $333 million, in part because of Regions' November acquisition of AmSouth Bancorp.
SunTrust's earnings rose 3% from the fourth quarter but fell 3.3% from a year earlier, to $521.3 million. The period's numerous special items included a $32 million gain on an investment and a $22.3 million gain from the sale of student loans. Nonperformers rose 25% from a quarter earlier, to $665.1 million. Other credit metrics, such as net chargeoffs and the provision, improved from the fourth quarter, when SunTrust took steps to address a troubled $200 million corporate loan.
U.S. Bancorp said nonperformers fell 3.4% compared with the fourth quarter, to $454 million. Net chargeoffs, however, rose 4.7% quarter to quarter, to $177 million. Regions said nonaccrual loans rose 14.1% from the fourth quarter, to $349.8 million. Net chargeoffs, however, fell 18% quarter to quarter, to $46 million, and the provision fell 21%, to $47 million.
SunTrust and Regions supported earnings with cost controls. Regions cut 2,400 jobs during the quarter, mainly because of the sale of EquiFirst and 52 former AmSouth branches. SunTrust said it expects to exceed its 2007 goal of $135 million in cuts by about $10 million. It trimmed 200 jobs in the quarter.