Regions Financial in Birmingham, Ala., met bullish second-quarter earnings expectations as loan growth offset a decline in fee income.

The $119 billion-asset company earned $300 million in the first quarter, up 12% from a year ago, it announced Tuesday. Per-share earnings of 21 cents met the average estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Net interest income rose 2%, to $822 million, mainly due to strong growth in commercial and specialized lending, Regions said. Commercial loans increased 4%, to $40.7 billion. The strongest growth was in commercial investor real estate construction loans, which rose 47%, to $1.8 billion, and commercial and industrial loans, which grew by 8%, to $31.4 billion.

Regions' net interest margin widened by 8 basis points, to 3.24%. Its provision for loan losses rose 13%, to $35 million, and net chargeoffs fell 53%, to $67 million.

Regions' noninterest expenses fell 7%, to $820 million. The main reason for the decline was that costs tied to early debt payments fell from $56 million to zero. Compensation costs fell 2%, to $443 million, but professional costs rose 76%, to $37 million.

Regions' noninterest income fell 8%, to $457 million, as mortgage income dropped 38%, to $43 million. Card fees and insurance fees ticked up, while service charges on deposit accounts were flat. Regions earned $6 million on a securities sale in the quarter.

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