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‘Slow and steady’ U.S. Bank emerging from financial pack

In contrast to many competitors still suffering from a hangover in the financial sector, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp expects to continue gaining market share and expanding its retail branch network while improving the bank’s relatively healthy financial position.

CEO Richard Davis delivered that upbeat message to analysts and investors this morning during a call discussing third-quarter earnings.

Pointing to its more conservative lending practices and focus on credit quality among its customers,  Davis trumpeted the bank’s formula as “clean, unvarnished, doing business the old-fashioned way.” That approach, he said, has enabled it to weather the financial market meltdown and ensuing recession, increased regulatory oversight and uncertainty.

U.S. Bank (NYSE: USB) reported net income of $1,273 billion, or 64 cents per diluted common share, on revenue of nearly $4.8 billion for the quarter. The bank saw 13 percent loan growth to $202 billion and a decline in provision for credit losses by $476 million from the same quarter a year ago.

Nevertheless, the bank is still feeling the pinch from the economy.

“People are using their cash before using ours,” Davis said, as consumers remain cautious in their use of credit cards.

Nonetheless, the bank has remained selective in building its credit card portfolio, he added, focusing on higher-credit-quality customers. “You won’t go to the mail box and see a ton of mail from U.S. Bank,” he said.

The bank also expects residential real estate prices to remain from flat to a 2 percent decline over the next year. 

U.S. bank also expects $75 million revenue decline in Q4 and $300 million for the full year because of several regulatory changes. The bank has been able to recoup about 30 percent of that through repricing and changes to checking accounts, company officials said, and has a goal to recoup 50 percent by the end of next year.

A provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bil, which went into effect Oct. 1, gave the Federal Reserve the authority to cut in half the fees banks can charge retailers for processing a debit card purchase. The new fee will be no more than about 24 cents for each purchase, from an average of 44 cents, according to the Fed.

Several banks have announced plans to institute debit card purchase fees on consumers, but U.S. Bank so far has not instituted debit card fees. Davis said they will be watching the experience of those that have. “We’ll learn if customers complain and move or just complain,” before deciding whether to institute debit card fees.

The Consumers Union weighed in Tuesday, criticizing Bank of America, along with SunTrust, Wells Fargo and Chase, which also have instituted fees.

Norma Garcia, director of the Consumers Union financial services program,called on the banks to drop their fees. “If Bank of America and the other banks refuse to drop the debit card fee, consumers should consider dropping them. There are plenty of banks and credit unions that don’t charge debit card fees that will be more than happy to accept new customers.”

“This debit card fee just adds insult to injury. It’s unfair for the banks to stick consumers with a monthly fee just to use their own money. Bank of America and other banks can still collect enough money from retailers to cover debit card costs.”

U.S. Bank’s financial stability has allowed it to continue to invest in new technology, Davis told analysts, describing himself as ”totally jazzed” about new mobile payment technology being developed by the bank that will be introduced to consumers in the coming quarters.

He also credits the bank’s healthy financial position for its market share gains in large corporate bank lending, as well as middle-market and small-business lending.

Earlier this week, U.S. Bank declared it had set a new company record of $630 million in Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for the year ending Sept. 30, a 123 percent increase over the previous year and topping the previous record of $504 million set in 2008.

U.S. Bank approved 1,711 SBA loans last year, up 6 percent from the year before. Citing the bank’s commitment to small business, U.S. Bank said it was the top lender last year in either the number of loans or dollar volume in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and St. Louis.

Nationwide, SBA-backed  loan approvals totaled $30.5 billion  across 61,689 loans last year for its major programs, setting an all-time record, according to the SBA. Through a variety of lending programs, the SBA guarantees bank loans for qualified small businesses and startups. SBA-backed loans totaled $22.6 billion (60,771 loans) in FY2010 and $17.9 billion (50,830 loans) in FY2009.

In early trading, USB stock was up 1.18 percent, or 29 cents, to $24.77.

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