Robust revenue growth usually means gains of 10% to 20%. But Provident Financial Group Inc. can scoff at such puny figures.

In the second quarter the Cincinnati-based bank reported an 84% gain in its fee businesses, led by the explosive growth of its subprime mortgage company, Provident Financial Services, which does business in 26 states.

The $7 billion-asset Provident's consumer finance company reported $18.8 million of revenue from the sale of loans in the quarter, up from $1.1 million a year earlier. Overall, the company reported 39% quarterly income growth.

Provident turned in one of the best performances among small to midsize regional banks this quarter, but it's not the only Cincinnati-based banking company to report strong performance.

Both $10.2 billion-asset Star Banc Corp. and $20.7 billion-asset Fifth Third Bancorp were among the most profitable and efficient midsize regional banks in the country, measured by key ratios such as return on assets, return on equity, and expenses-to-revenue.

"It's in the water in Cincinnati," said Joseph Duwan, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

"The competition brings out the best in you, and that's why they do so well," said Fred Cummings, an analyst at McDonald & Company Securities in Cleveland.

But the success this quarter extended throughout the Buckeye State. Columbus-based Huntington Bancshares, Akron-based FirstMerit Corp., and Cleveland-based Charter One Financial Corp. had improved quarters and met or beat analysts' earnings estimates as compiled by First Call.

And Cleveland-based KeyCorp and National City Corp. showed earning per share growth of 11.1% and 10.9%, respectively.

Mr. Duwan, who covers the major Ohio banking companies, said his group showed improvements in revenues-particularly loan growth, expense control, and better credit quality. But he said the mid-tier banks, including Fifth Third and Star Banc, "had slightly more impressive revenue growth."

Mr. Cummings was more blunt. He said that although all the banks had a good quarter in terms of cutting costs, revenue growth was much stronger at the midsize companies.

"The big banks don't have the revenue growth," he said.

Analysts attributed the strong results to the proliferation of fee businesses, such as Fifth Third's highly profitable data processing business or Provident's consumer finance unit, and to the healthy economy in home markets in Ohio.

From an efficiency standpoint, some of the midsize Ohio banks continue to set the industry standard. Fifth Third weighed in this quarter with the lowest ratio of operating expense to revenue, at 42%-the best among big banks.

The efficiency ratio has become an important measure over the past few years, with many banks recognizing it as rivaling profitability ratios in importance.

Provident and Star Banc were not far behind Fifth Third, with efficiency ratios of 46% and 48%, respectively.

"Those companies are unbelievably efficient," Mr. Cummings said.

The $14.6 billion-asset Charter One, a savings and loan, had an efficiency ratio of 40%. Although thrifts generally have lower expenses than banks, Charter One's aptitude for expense control has helped it perform well, Mr. Cummings said.

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