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Regions Financial: Earnings Winner

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Regions Financial (RF) was the winner on Tuesday among major U.S. financial names, with shares rising 4% to close at $8.01.

The broad indices all ended with 1% gains, as the narrative of the U.S. housing rebound continued. The Federal Housing Finance Agency reported that its House Price Index was up 0.7% in February from January, and that house prices in the U.S. were up 7.1% from a year earlier. The U.S. House Price index was still 13.6% below its peak in April 2007, right before the housing bubble burst.

The KBW Bank Index (I:BKX) rose 2% to close at 55.80, with all 24 index components ending with gains. The index is, of course, heavily weighted to Bank of America (BAC), which was up 3% to close at $12.07, after Morgan Stanley analyst Betsy Graseck upgraded the company to an "overweight" rating from an "equal-weight" weighting.

Graseck raised her price target for Bank of America to $16 from $13, and said in a note to clients that "you don't get a lot of second chances in life, and so we are taking advantage of this one....BAC is about to deliver on a significant expense reduction over the next several quarters, which should fall to the bottom line and boost EPS. Also, we expect BAC will be largely through significant litigation risk by YE2013."

Based on her expectations for the bank's expense reduction, credit quality improvement and a gain in market share at the expense of Wells Fargo (WFC), Graseck raised her 2013 earnings estimate for Bank of America to $1.07 a share from $1.01, while raising her 2014 EPS estimate to $1.43 from $1.30. Her 2015 EPS estimate for Bank of America is $1.98.

Regions

Regions Financial of Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday reported first-quarter net income available to common shareholders of $327 million, or 23 cents a share, increasing from $261 million, or 18 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, and $145 million, or 11 cents a share, in the first quarter of 2012. The first-quarter results came in ahead of the consensus estimate of 20 cents, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

The biggest factor in the year-over-year earnings improvement was a decline in the provision for loan losses to $10 million in the first quarter from $37 million the previous quarter and $117 million a year earlier. The provision is the amount added to loan loss reserves, directly lowering pre-tax earnings.

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