BB&T (BBT) in Winston-Salem, N.C., narrowly missed Wall Street's first-quarter expectations because of sluggish loan growth.

The $184.7 billion-asset company's earnings fell 7% from the fourth quarter but more than doubled from a year earlier, to $501 million. At 69 cents a share, the results were a penny below the average estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg. (BB&T's results from a year earlier were reduced by a $281 million tax-related adjustment.)

Revenue fell 7% from a year earlier, to $2.3 billion. Noninterest income fell 9%, to $911 million, after a steep decline in mortgage revenue.

Net interest income decreased by 5%, to $1.3 billion. The loan portfolio was flat compared to a year earlier, at $117.6 billion, with BB&T making small gains in commercial lending. The net interest margin compressed by 4 basis points, to 3.52%.

BB&T's offset revenue pressure with expense control. Noninterest expenses fell 1%, to $1.4 billion. Personnel expenses declined by 4%, to $782 million.

Lower expenses "created improvement in our efficiency ratio and helped generate positive operating leverage in the quarter," Kelly King, BB&T's chairman and chief executive, said in a press release Thursday. "We continue to expect improvement in the efficiency ratio as revenue growth is expected to outpace expense growth."

Credit quality continued to improve, which also helped the bottom line. The loan-loss provision fell 78%, to $60 million, while nonperforming assets fell 29%, to $990 million.

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