U.S. Bancorp (USB) plans to introduce new pricing on checking accounts and remove rewards before the middle of the year, Chief Executive Richard Davis said Wednesday, saying the bank was speeding its plans in response to regulations on what banks can charge for debit card swipes.
Meanwhile, the fifth-largest U.S. bank by assets said its fourth-quarter profit jumped 62% as its asset quality improved and it managed to increase the amount of new loans it delivered in the quarter. And the bank added that commercial loans rose for the second-straight sequential quarter for the first time in over two years.
Banks are rapidly doing away with free checking accounts and implementing new fees after a provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform said banks would be limited on how much they could charge retailers for every swipe of a debit card. The fees, known as interchange fees, were capped at 12 cents a transaction by the Federal Reserve and bank executives now say debit cards won't be profitable anymore.
Davis, speaking to analysts on a conference call, admitted he was backpedaling from previous statements, as the bank had planned to watch competitors toy with consumer fees first and then implement what worked best.
"We are not going to be a late follower anymore," Davis said. "We will see sometime in the early, middle part of this year our own actions in making sure that we have fair pricing."
Davis said the Fed's announcement last month would cost just over $400 million in revenue. The bank hopes to recoup about half that.
Davis said, "at the end of the day, debit card is no longer a free product," and rewards are likely to go away as well.
He also noted the bank's nontraditional bank branches, like those inside grocery stores, are going to "make more sense," though the bank won't close branches.
Meanwhile, for the fourth-quarter, U.S. Bancorp achieved what other big banks are desperate for, loan growth and revenue growth. The bank reported average total loan growth of 2% from the prior year and 1.5% from the third quarter, topping the roughly 1.4% sequential growth Davis had predicted earlier.
Chief Financial Officer Andrew Cecere told Dow Jones the growth was across all categories of loans, and the bank thinks it is gaining market share.
The gains are "across geographies and size of business," Cecere said. "While the largest companies can access the capital markets, middle markets, small business, commercial banking all are showing signs of loan growth."
But, as other banks have said, corporations are still hesitant to actually use their lines of credit. Davis told analysts that nearly half of all customers haven't used their lines of credit even once, a record rate. He said corporations are mobilizing funding as the economy improves, possibly to help in acquisitions, but at this time their actions are more comparable to consumers bulking up their saving rates.
U.S. Bancorp reported a 7.9% increase in revenue to $4.7 billion, topping the $4.53 billion analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected. Both net interest income and noninterest income rose in the quarter.
Net income rose to $974 million, or 49 cents a share, from $602 million, or 30 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding a 3-cent gain in the latest quarter from the exchange of its asset management affiliate FAF Advisors for an equity interest in Nuveen Investments and cash, earnings matched Wall Street's expectation.
Boosting the quarter was a plunging credit-loss provision, which fell to $912 million from $1.39 billion. The bank released $25 million in reserves as loans it considers uncollectable fell to 1.9% of average loans from 2.34%.
The bank said its Tier 1 common ratio, which new worldwide capital regulations focus on, was 7.8%, above the needed 7%.
Cecere reiterated U.S. Bancorp is looking to return capital to shareholders, but needs approval from regulators, which it expects in the third week of March. He said the bank is likely to pay a dividend that is slightly lower than allowed, so that it can subsequently be allowed to raise the dividend.
Copyright © 2011 Dow Jones Newswires