Huntington Bancshares chief Stephen Steinour is upbeat about revenue prospects this year despite tight margins and other economic challenges.
Citing an improving housing market and strong projected growth in auto sales, Steinour said the $66 billion-asset Huntington occupies "the best entry position for a new year we've had in my six years with the company. We're starting 2015 off a very strong 2014, so we think we have some good momentum."
Huntington, based in Columbus, Ohio, said fourth-quarter net income jumped 3.4%, to $164 million despite spending more than $20 million on what it termed "significant expenses:" a total of $9 million related to consolidation of 26 branch offices along with a $12 million addition to its litigation reserve. Overall noninterest expenses totaled $483.3 million for the quarter, up 8% from the same period in 2013.
Huntington's fourth-quarter profit worked out to 19 cents per share, which was in line with consensus estimates, according to Terry McEvoy, an analyst with Stern Agee.
Full-year 2014 net income totaled $632 million, which was essentially flat compared with 2013. Earnings per share totaled 72 cents both years. Loans and leases grew by a robust 9% to $47.7 billion in 2014, but the impact of the added earning assets was tempered by ongoing compression in the net interest margin, which shrank 13 basis points to 3.23%.
"Net interest margin compression has been tangible the last couple of years with quantitative easing," said Steinour, who is the company's chairman and chief executive.
Huntington's results were boosted by stronger-than-anticipated credit quality. Nonaccrual loans and leases totaled $300 million, a modest 0.63% of total loans and leases.
Looking at the year ahead, Huntington is projecting noninterest expenses to grow by 2% to 4%, but it said revenue growth would outstrip that increase. "We're expecting continued pressure on our margin, but that should be outpaced by earning asset growth," Chief Financial Officer Mac McCullough said in a conference call.
Falling energy prices might hurt in places like Texas and North Dakota, but Steinour said they are benefiting both businesses and consumers in the Midwest markets where Huntington does business, with auto sales getting a particularly big boost. Automobile lending is one of Huntington's biggest lines of business, and the company saw its car loan portfolio grow 31% in 2014 to $8.7 billion.
"We're very bullish on auto," Steinour said. "We're coming off a good year, and we expect an even better one."