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3 Goldman Sachs Regional Bank Picks

Stocks in this article: EWBC BPOP HBAN C STI KEY FHN

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Goldman Sachs published a review of fourth quarter regional bank earnings on Wednesday, with analysts stating they saw "little in terms of surprises," though there were some clear signs of weakness.

"Almost all of the banks saw core pre-provision operating profit decline in the quarter, potentially suggesting a slower path to full earnings recovery," the analysts wrote.

Still, banks tended to behave as expected, according to the report, with those that had been growing their loan books continuing to do so, and banks with big reserves still maintaining a big capital cushion.

Credit metrics "improved notably for the group," the report states. Non-performing loans declined in all product areas with the exception of home equity. Some of the best performers

Goldman analysts increased their 2011 estimates for four banks, including SunTrust Banks (STI), Cathay General Bancorp (CATY), Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) and KeyCorp (KEY).

They cut estimates for six companies, including Synovus Financial Corp. (SNV), Zions Bancorporation (ZION) BB&T Corp. (BBT), Comerica Inc. (CMA), Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB) and First Horizon National Corp. (FHN).

Despite dropping estimates on Zion by 65% for 2011, Goldman's analysts stated that they had grown more positive on the name after studying non- performing asset "inflow trends." Conversely, Goldman's analysts wrote that those same trends had made them "less constructive," on Fifth Third.

While acknowledging a view that a recovery in credit, margins and costs should occur in about two years, Goldman's analysts argue "the current interest rate environment" leads to "uncertainty around margin normalization."

"The ability to show near-term growth would likely give the market more comfort in the path to better earnings and thus result in outperformance," the report states.

Goldman's top large cap bank picks are JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Citigroup (C), as the firm noted in a report its analysts published last week. Here are Goldman's top picks among regional players.

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