4. U.S. Bancorp

Shares of U.S. Bancorp ( USB) of Minneapolis closed at $31.70 Tuesday, returning 17% year-to-date, following a 2% return during 2011.

The shares trade for 11 times the consensus 2013 EPS estimate of $2.95.

The company on March 14 announced that it would increase its quarterly dividend to 19.5 cents from 12.5 cents, and that its board of directors had authorized the repurchase of up to 100 million common shares. Based on the new dividend payout, the shares have a dividend yield of 2.46%.

U.S. Bancorp will report its first-quarter results on April 17. The consensus first-quarter EPS estimate is 64 cents, declining from 69 cents in the fourth quarter, but increasing from 52 cents a share during the first quarter of 2011.

The company's fourth-quarter earnings of $1.35 billion were boosted by a $125 million release of loan loss reserves.

During the fourth quarter, the company saw a sequential 6% increase in total revenue, to $5.1 billion, which CEO Richard Davis said reflected an increase in average loans of "2.4 percent on a linked quarter basis including a strong 5.6 percent increase in average total commercial loans."

With a strong pipeline, first-quarter loan growth could accelerate, as Davis said "commercial and commercial real estate commitments grew by 7.2 percent in the fourth quarter over the third quarter."

Morgan Stanley analyst Betsy Graseck rates U.S. Bancorp "Overweight," and on Sunday raised her first-quarter 2012 EPS estimate to match the consensus at 64 cents, from 61 cents, "due to stronger mortgage banking revenue." The analyst estimates USB will earn $2.73 a share in 2012, followed by 2013 EPS of $2.87.

U.S. Bancorp has been one of the strongest large-cap bank holding companies through the credit crisis, and during 2011, the company's quarterly returns on average assets (ROA) steadily increased from 1.38% to 1.62%, which is, by far, the strongest earnings performance among the banks listed here.

Interested in more on U.S. Bancorp? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.

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