Comerica Beats on Expense Reduction (Update 1)

  • First-quarter EPS of 70 cents beats the consensus estimate of 68 cents.
  • Expenses down $11 million in first quarter from fourth quarter, mostly from lower salary expense.
  • Average loans grow 1% in the first quarter from the fourth quarter.
  • Average commercial and industrial loans grow 2%.
  • Net interest margin widens slighlty.

Updated from 7:31 a.m. ET with late morning market action and comment from BTIG analyst Mark Palmer

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Comerica ( CMA) of Dallas on Tuesday reported an $11 million quarter-over-quarter decline in expenses, along with solid commercial loan growth.

The company reported first-quarter net income available to common shareholders of $132 million, or 70 cents a share, increasing from $128 million, or 68 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, and $129 million, or 66 cents a share, in the first quarter of 2012.

The first-quarter bottom line came in ahead of the consensus estimate of 68 cents a share, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

The primary factor in the earnings increase was a decline in noninterest expense to $416 million in the first quarter from $427 million in the fourth quarter and $448 million in the first quarter of 2012. The quarterly reduction in expenses in part reflected a bump in severance costs in the fourth quarter. First-quarter salary expense totaled $188 million, declining from $196 million the previous quarter and $201 million a year earlier.

"Broad-based average loan growth in each of our primary geographic markets, together with tight expense controls, contributed to our increased net income in the first quarter," said Comerica CEO Ralph W. Babb Jr., in a statement.

Underlining the company's expense control efforts, Comerica's headcount declined to 8,932 as of March 31, from 8,967 the previous quarter and 9,195 a year earlier.

Average total loans grew by 1% during the first quarter to $498 million, while average commercial and industrial loans grew by 2%, which was partially offset by a 1% decline in average commercial mortgage and construction loans.

Another highlight for Comerica was that its net interest margin widened slightly to 2.88% in the first quarter, from 2.87% in the fourth quarter. A year earlier, the margin was 3.19%. The net interest margin is the spread between the average yield on loans and investments and the average cost for deposits and borrowings.

Comerica's net interest income declined to $416 million in the first quarter from $424 million in the fourth quarter and $442 million in the first quarter of 2012. The company explained that "the $8 million decrease in net interest income was primarily due to two fewer days in the first quarter."

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