Zions Tanks on Slow Loan Growth: Financial Loser (Update 1)

Updated with market close information and more on other banks' third-quarter results.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Zions Bancorporation ( ZION) was the big loser among major U.S. financial companies on Tuesday, with shares down nearly 7% to close at $27.86.

Zions -- based in Salt Lake City -- late on Monday reported third-quarter earnings applicable to common stockholders of $209.7 million, or $1.12 a share, compared to earnings of $55.4 million, or 30 cents a share, during the second quarter, and $62.3 million, or 34 cents a share, during the third quarter of 2013. The results for the most recent quarter included an after-tax benefit of $126 million, or 68 cents a share, from the redemption of $800 million in preferred stock that had a carrying value of $926 million.

The company's underlying trends were clearly of major concern to investors. Net interest income declined to $415.2 million during the third quarter from $430.7 million the previous quarter and $438.2 million a year earlier. The net interest margin -- the spread between the average rate earned on loans and investments and the average cost for deposits and borrowings -- narrowed to 3.22% in the third quarter from 3.44% in the second quarter and 3.58% in the third quarter of 2013.

"Net interest income was primarily impacted this quarter by lower income from FDIC-supported loans, which accounted for nearly 95% of the sequential quarterly decline," according to Zions, which was referring to loans acquired from failed banks that have loss-share coverage from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The margin decline reflected slow loan growth and stood in contrast to some other regional lenders, including Regions Financial Corp. ( RF) of Birmingham, Ala., which on Tuesday reported an expanding net interest margin and strong commercial and industrial loan growth. Regions' positives weren't enough to outweigh investors' concerns over an increase in core expenses, and the company's shares were down 3% to close at $9.73.

Zions reported that its average loans and leases -- excluding loans with FDIC coverage -- during the third quarter grew 1% sequentially and 2% year over year to $37.8 billion. Quarter-end commercial and industrial (C&I) loan balances were flat quarter over quarter, but up 10% from a year earlier to $19.4 billion.

BMO analysts Lana Chan and Peter Winter in a client note on Tuesday reiterated their "Outperform" rating for Zions, but lowered their price target for the shares to $32 from $33 and lowered their 2014 earnings estimate for the bank to $1.85 a share from $1.95. The cuts were made "to reflect slower loan growth and further margin pressure, partly offset by a wider negative loan-loss provision," the analysts wrote.

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