Although Regions Financial (NYSE: RF ) ended 2011 with a hefty loss, what really stood out in the fourth quarter was its improved credit quality, coupled with loan growth. The bank posted a loss as it took on a one-time noncash charge linked to the sale of its brokerage unit Morgan Keegan. Excluding this one-time expense, the regional bank earned $0.09 a share, which came in ahead of the $0.06 a share that analysts were expecting. So things don't look all that bad.
A few numbers
Fellow Fool Ilan Moscovitz pointed out that the biggest news to come out of this round of earnings releases in the banking sector is loan growth. He goes on to explain that this was especially important because banks' top-line growth has been bleak, given low interest rates and a sluggish economy. Regions also scored well as far as loan growth is concerned. Its loans in the middle market and industrial customer section grew by $2.4 billion for the full year -- almost 11% on a year-over-year basis. However, low interest rates pulled down the bank's total interest income 9% year over year.
Credit quality grows
For the seventh consecutive quarter, nonperforming loans declined for the regional bank. On a sequential basis, NPLs (excluding those loans held for sale) fell 26% to $561 million. Provisions for loan losses declined a staggering 57% over the previous year and 17% over the last quarter, showing that the bank is confident about its improving loan quality.
Regions has a fairly robust capital position, with its Tier 1 capital ratio rising to 13.2% from 12.4% in the comparable year-ago quarter and 12.8% from the preceding one.
Progress in repaying Uncle Sam
Regions, which was hit badly during the 2007 housing crisis, had to be bailed out and has yet to repay the $3.5 billion it received from the government way back in 2008.
But it is definitely working toward that goal. The bank recently sold its brokerage unit Morgan Keegan after a lengthy six-month hunt for a buyer, when Raymond James Financial (NYSE: RJF ) agreed to pay $930 million for the unit. The sale is also set to add more to Regions' core capital ratio, which comes as good news, especially when the Federal Reserve has required U.S. banks to take stress tests.
I feel the bank is certainly making progress. Regions is set to begin 2012 on a positive note -- it is strengthening its balance sheet and growing its loan portfolio. What do you think about Regions' prospects? Leave your comments below and stay up to date on this regional bank by clicking here and adding it to your own personalized watchlist.