Commerce Bancshares (CBSH) in Kansas City, Mo., posted record earnings in the first quarter as improved credit quality and strong revenue growth in its fee-based businesses more than offset flat loan growth.

The $20.5 billion-asset company said Thursday that its first-quarter profit climbed nearly 9% from the prior year, to $60.5 million, and that earnings per share rose 12%, to 74 cents, beating estimates of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters by seven cents.

In a news release, Commerce Chairman and Chief Executive David W. Kemper said that earnings growth was driven largely by double-digit revenue growth in its corporate card and capital markets divisions, a 6% increase in revenues from its money management business and a 48% drop in its provision for loan losses. Earnings were further bolstered by a 2% drop in its noninterest expense.

Total loans before provision for loan losses increased by nearly $71 million, or 1%, from the prior quarter but were down 1.3% from the same quarter in 2011.  Net interest income was down 1% from three months earlier and its yield on earning assets of 3.45% was up one basis point from the prior quarter but down 40 basis points from a year earlier.

Commerce's shares were up 2.2% in early trading Thursday, to $40.01.   

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