NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- For more than a year I've sung the praises of U.S. Bancorp's (USB) consistent operational performance, which in my opinion had gone underappreciated by investors who were more enamored with growth.I won't disagree there's considerably more "flair" associated with the likes of Bank of America ( BAC) and Citigroup ( C). But they also come with an equal amount of risk. I don't believe in substituting "high profile" for fundamental metrics such as operating margin, earnings per share and return on equity -- areas where U.S. Bancorp has consistently outperformed. After another solid earnings report, shares of this bank still look cheap. After having studied the results of the "big four" banks, which include JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and Wells Fargo ( WFC), it became clear that revenue growth was a struggle across the entire sector. So it came as no surprise that U.S. Bancorp posted a 2.4% revenue decline. Relative to expectations, I would say the performance wasn't that bad, especially since the bank improved revenue by 1.5% sequentially, which was on par with both Citigroup and JPMorgan. As with Bank of America and Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp seemed to have had a hard time this quarter with mortgage lending, which led to slight decline in net interest income (NII). But unlike Bank of America, which posted 4% decline in fees, U.S. Bancorp was able to offset its net interest income weakness with a 5% sequential increase in fees.
I believe the higher expenses was one of the reasons that caused the 2% decline in net interest income, which was below expectations. In the "too big to fail era," any time bank expenses rise it becomes a big deal, especially with stricter federal regulation ensuring banks are able to meet their capital requirements. In this case, I don't believe this is a situation where U.S. Bancorp management is getting careless. I'm not going to make excuses for the bank's miss of 3 cents on expenses. But given that U.S. Bancorp still maintained a solid efficiency ratio of 52%, which is better than Wells Fargo's 57% and JPMorgan's 59%, I wouldn't get carried away. The lower the number, the stronger the bank is perceived to be. So, here too, U.S. Bancorp is demonstrating that it just might be safer than two of the better names on the market. Besides, given how competitive this sector has become, I don't see a scenario where U.S. Bancorp management could have grown average loans by more than 5% without having made some investments. Plus, the fact the bank still managed to meet expectations in net interest margin should negate any near-term worries about its capital-use efficiency. Follow @saintssense This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.