U.S. Bancorp (NYSE:USB) reported first quarter earnings today, and while challenges lurk for the nation's largest regional bank, there's plenty for investors to love.

1. Healthy net-income increase
Net income for U.S. Bancorp in the first quarter of 2013 was $1.4 billion, an increase of 6.7% over the first quarter of 2012, resulting in earnings per share of $0.73. 

Last Friday, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) reported a year-over-year increase in net income of 33%, but no one really expects U.S. Bancorp to compete with that. For as well run a bank as it is, JPMorgan is still a high-flyer, as evidenced by the trouble it got into last year by a botched derivatives bet that cost the bank more than $6 billion.

U.S. Bancorp still makes money the old fashioned way: taking in deposits, lending it out, and profiting off the difference in interest. 6.7% growth in net income is healthy growth for this long-term investor favorite, reflecting the healthy way in which it operates.

2. Solid commercial loan growth
U.S. Bancorp is reporting year-over-year commercial loan growth of 5.8%. With mortgage-loan business already starting to flag, this is good news for U.S. Bancorp investors.

The onset of the Federal Reserve's third round of quantitative easing last fall led to a resurgence in home lending at all the big banks, and a subsequent resurgence in the U.S. housing market. But as the natural limit for new mortgages and refinancings gets closer and closer to being reached, home-lending revenues and profits are already beginning to drop off.

Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) is the country's largest home lender, and last Friday it reported that home-mortgage originations were down 14.7% from the previous quarter. U.S. Bancorp is heavy into the home-lending business, too, but if it can keep growing its commercial loan business at a healthy rate, it should weather the mortgage-business wind-down better than its peers.

3. Growth on already fabulous return-on-assets
U.S. Bancorp is reporting return-on-assets of 1.65%, up from 1.60% the same period a year earlier. ROA of 1.60% is already outstanding, to see any growth at all is icing on the cake -- another indicator of how this steady-Eddie of the banking world is getting the core things right.

ROA is a measurement of management efficiency, telling you how efficient it is at using the bank's assets to generate earnings. An ROA of 1.65% is way up there. Wells is generally regarded as being one of the best-run banks in the country. It's ROA is 1.49%. Likewise well thought of in this regard, JPMorgan has an ROA of just 0.97%. 

And what about investor darling Bank of America (NYSE:BAC)? An ROA of just 0.19%. And with an ROA of 0.82%, Citibank (NYSE:C) may be better off than B of A, but it till isn't in the same league as U.S. Bancorp.

Foolish bottom line
ROA matters because the more efficient bank management is with its assets, the better the bottom line, and therefore the better it is for investors.

These kinds of company values and metrics may at first seem boring, but as I mentioned earlier, getting these kinds of core things right is what separates a steady, long-term performer like U.S. Bancorp from its higher-flying, higher-profile -- but riskier -- peers.

There are actually more than three things to love about the U.S. Bancorp's first-quarter performance, but these three should get you started nicely. 

Fool contributor John Grgurich owns shares of Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. Follow John's dispatches from the bleeding heart of capitalism on Twitter @TMFGrgurichThe Motley Fool recommends Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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