Fee businesses more than offset sluggish loan growth and higher credit losses for four big Midwest banks that posted second-quarter earnings last week.

Fifth Third Bancorp, Mercantile Bancorp., Commerce Bancshares, and TCF Financial Corp. all more than doubled loan-loss provisions in response to higher credit losses - mostly consumer - in the second quarter. Fifth Third's provision, for instance, was $18 million, $10 million more than it reserved a year earlier.

Nevertheless, all three posted double-digit profit gains in comparison with second-quarter 1995 levels.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third earned $83.2 million, up 21.5%. The $19.9 billion-asset bank cited net interest income and fee businesses, including trust and data processing. Total loans increased 15%, kindled by strong growth in consumer and commercial leases.

TCF, a $7 billion-asset Minneapolis thrift, reported income of $26.75 million, up 14%. TCF credited consumer loan growth and savings from merger- related restructurings last year.

With loan growth flat, Kansas City, Mo.-based Commerce Bancshares and St. Louis-based Mercantile won higher earnings from fee income and expense control.

Mercantile reported a 12.4% profit increase to $65 million, with growth in trust and credit card fees. The $18 billion-asset bank was coming off a particularly dismal first quarter, in which it earned only $4.6 million. It said consolidating its bank charters and a renegotiated deal with credit card partner Southwestern Bell should help future earnings momentum.

Analyst Michael Durante of McDonald & Company Securities in Cleveland, however, said Mercantile's troubles are far from over.

"This is a company that struggles on the revenue side of the business," Mr. Durante said.

Historically, Mercantile has been a consistent performer bolstered by acquisitions, but that strategy has slowed, and Mr. Durante said the company is going to have to find growth elsewhere. "It doesn't have the currency to do acquisitions in the near term," he said.

The $9.3 billion-asset Commerce Bancshares said fee income and expense control helped its income rise 7.8% to $28.9 billion.

A fifth midwestern bank, Chicago-based Northern Trust Corp., which derives more than half its revenues from trust fees, reported income of $63.4 million, a 19% increase.

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