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3 Best Bank Stock Earnings Bets: Jefferies

Stocks in this article: HBAN FITB KEY BBT PNC ZION CMA MTB

Updated with market close information and revised year-to-date returns.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Jefferies analyst Ken Usdin on Thursday highlighted four regional bank holding companies "better positioned to show growth" in core earnings, with industry consolidation playing a role.

Usdin expects "large/mid-cap regionals to post decent pre-provision income (PPNR) growth, aided by declining credit-related costs."

Pre-provision revenue is a very useful tool to help analysts and investors understand what's really going on with a bank since at this point in the economic recovery, most of the large industry players are appropriately releasing loan loss reserves which has the effect of distorting bottom-line results.

With banks continuing to face pressure on their net interest margins in the prolonged low-rate environment, Usdin expects, on average, "low single-digit net interest income growth" this year, and says that major regional players "capable of growing net interest income at faster rates" include KeyCorp (because of CD repricing and loan growth), PNC Financial Services Group (PNC) (from its coming acquisition of RBC Bank (USA), and M&T Bank (MTB), on the "deployment of excess liquidity."

The analyst expects fee income for the regionals as a group to be flat during 2012, from the effect on debit card interchange fees from the Durbin Amendment and "tough comps for mortgage banking." Usdin expects BB&T (BBT), Comerica (CMA) and PNC to show "better growth due to recent acquisitions," while Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB) and U.S. Bancorp (USB) "could have a tougher time if mortgage origination volumes decline in line with our expectations.

For the group's cost management, Usdin sees SunTrust (STI), Fifth Third and M&T "doing a better job of managing the core," while Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) "could continue to lag a bit."

On "environmental costs," including mortgage putbacks, the analyst says credit expenses "continue to be a significant challenge," notably for SunTrust and BB&T.

Here's a quick look at the three buy-rated regionals best-positioned for 2012 pre-provision earnings growth, according to Usdin, followed by five more with neutral ratings that face "a tougher time:"

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