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U.S. Bancorp Meets Operating Estimate, Mortgage Revenue Declines (Update 2)

Corrected to show that average loans grew by 1.3% during the third quarter, and that the company met the consensus operating EPS estiimate, excluding its portion of the regulatory foreclosure settlement. Also updated with comments from Jefferies analyst Ken Usdin.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. Bancorp (USB - Get Report) on Wednesday reported another strong quarter, but the company's loan growth was slowing down.

The Minneapolis lender reported fourth-quarter net income of $1.420 billion, or 72 cents a share, declining from $1.474 billion, or 74 cents a share, in the third quarter, but increasing from $1.350 billion, or 69 cents a share, in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The fourth-quarter results included $80 million for its portion of the $8.5 billion mortgage foreclosure settlement between federal regulators and the nation's largest loan servicers, reducing earnings by three cents a share. Excluding the mortgage settlement, U.S. Bancorp met the consensus fourth-quarter earnings estimate of 75 cents, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

The company also said that "earnings in the fourth quarter of 2011 included a $263 million merchant settlement gain, partially offset by a $130 million accrual related to mortgage servicing matters," which together boosted earnings by five cents a share.

Average total loans grew by 1.5% during the fourth quarter, slowing slighlty from 1.3% during the third quarter. Average loans were up 6.4% year-over-year, with the annual growth pace slowing from 7.3% the previous quarter.

Fourth-quarter net interest income was $2.783 billion, which was the same level as in the third quarter, and increased from $2.763 billion a year earlier, as loan growth of 6.4% year-over-year outweighed the narrowing of the net interest margin, which is the spread between the average yield on loans and investments and the average cost for deposits and borrowings.

The fourth-quarter net interest margin was 3.55%, narrowing from 3.60% the previous quarter and 3.59% a year earlier. The company's net interest margin has actually held up quite well over the past year when compared to many other large banks, as the Federal Reserve's target range for the short-term federal funds rate has remained in a range of zero to 0.25% since late 2008, and the Central Bank has been making monthly purchases of $40 billion in mortgage backed securities and $45 billion in long-term Treasury securities, in an effort to hold long-term rates down. There is hope for banks' rates spreads over coming quarters, however, as long-term treasury rates have rapidly increased over the past several weeks.

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