SunTrust Banks ( STI) on Wednesday became the latest bank to report a nearly complete evaporation of fourth-quarter profits amid worsening housing and credit markets. SunTrust missed analysts' estimates by earning just $3.3 million, or a penny a share, in the fourth-quarter, a 99% drop from a year ago, when it earned $498.6 million, or $1.39 a share. The Atlanta-based bank blamed the declining value of asset-backed securities, losses tied to residential real estate loans, rising mortgage delinquencies and falling home prices for the poor results. "Continued progress in implementing shareholder value-oriented initiatives at SunTrust was eclipsed in the fourth quarter by the impact of industry-wide pressures, notably rapid deterioration of the residential real estate market, the change in the credit cycle and consumer credit quality, and the resulting impact on liquidity in the financial markets," said President and CEO James Wells III. The losses were driven by SunTrust's $555 million writedown to asset-backed paper, including collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, and other assets once held off its balance sheet in structured investment vehicles, or SIVs. SunTrust also significantly increased its provision for credit losses to $356.8 million in the fourth quarter. That's a 68% increase from the $115.8 million provision the bank reported in the year-ago period. Nonperforming loans as a percentage of total loans also increased to 1.19%, from 0.44% in the year-ago period.
The bank, like many of its peers, also took a $76.9 million charge related to partner Visa's settlement of litigation with American Express ( AXP), which had alleged it had been frozen out of the bank-issued credit card business. Fourth-quarter revenue dipped 14.4% to $1.77 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected a profit of 31 cents a share on revenue of $1.90 billion. For the full year, SunTrust reported a profit of $1.60, or $4.55 a share, vs. $2.11 billion, or $5.82 a share, in the year-ago period. Full-year revenue edged fractionally higher in 2007 to $8.25 billion. Analysts had expected a profit of $4.46 a share on revenue of $8.09 billion. SunTrust shares were down fractionally to $60.50 in recent premarket trading. On Tuesday, Bank of America ( BAC) and Wachovia Bank ( WB) both also reported fourth-quarter profit drops of more than 95% vs. a year ago.