Not Much to Bank on

07/22/2010 3:09 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

US Bancorp’s (NYSE: USB) chief executive officer Richard Davis wasn’t all that optimistic about the US economy in the conference call after his company reported second quarter earnings on July 21. Demand for credit from businesses continues to fall, and unemployment may climb to 10% later in 2010 from the current 9.5%.

No, Davis sure didn’t sound like the head of a bank that had just reported a 63% increase in second quarter profit from the second quarter of 2009. Earnings of 50 cents a share beat Wall Street estimates by 12 cents a share. Revenue climbed 115% from the second quarter of 2009, beating the consensus revenue estimate of $4.35 billion by $270 million.

The bank’s Tier 1 capital ratio climbed to 10.1% from 9.9% at the end of the first quarter of 2010.

So, why so gloomy?

Perhaps because the bank hasn’t yet turned the corner on bad loans—the bank put $1.14 billion into its loan-loss reserves in the quarter—or maybe because commercial lending dropped 14% on weak demand.

There was plenty of good news in the quarter, though. Net interest income grew by 14.5% as the net interest margin, the difference between what the bank pays for the money it lends out and what it charges for loans, climbed to 3.9% from 3.6%.

Thanks to the bank’s purchase of $35 billion in assets from failed banks and savings and loans, total loans grew by 4%. Fee income climbed by 2.7%. CEO Davis said he thought that bad loans would start to decline in the third quarter. (For contrast, see the earnings reports from Citigroup and Bank of America—now that’s bad news!)

But there wasn’t enough good news for USB to begin raising its dividend. The bank cut its quarterly dividend to five cents a share in March 2009 during the financial crisis, and it wants to see more evidence of a “sustainable economic recovery” before increasing the dividend.

As of July 22, I’m keeping my target price at $31 a share but extending the time line to June 2011 from September 2010. (The stock traded below $24 Thursday.)

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any company mentioned in this story in my personal portfolio.

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