Yes, we know that BB&T (NYSE:BBT) reported $0.29 in earnings per share in its first quarter earnings report, and that earnings were adversely affected by a $281 million tax expense. But while the market was focusing on that number, it missed what was really important in BB&T's quarter.

What you missed
If you exclude the large one-time tax adjustment from BB&T's earnings, the North Carolina bank exceeded analysts' expectations of $0.63 per share, earning $0.69 per share during the first quarter. This was despite revenue being down slightly from the previous quarter, and further compression of its net interest margin. However, revenue was up from the first quarter of last year, with most of the gains coming from strong performance in its insurance business after the April 2012 acquisition of Crump Group, as well as some organic growth due to improved pricing in premiums.

Perhaps more impressive is the bank's ability to continue to reduce its nonperforming assets while minimizing charge-offs. Nonperforming assets declined 8%from the fourth quarter, reducing its nonperforming asset ratio down to a very impressive 0.8%. NPAs are down 42.3% since December 2011, and are at the lowest level since the second quarter of 2008. Not to be outdone, net charge-offs fell below 1% for the first time since June 2008, with CEO Kelly King expecting "further improvement in coming quarters."

Delinquent loans also showed marked improvement during the quarter, leading me to believe that nonperforming assets should remain low for quarters to come. Loans 30-89 days past due declined 10.5%, while loans more than 90 days past due declined by 17.3%. Foreclosed real estate also declined by 17.8%, reaching the lowest levels since the third quarter of 2007.

What it all means going forward
Improving asset quality is very important for any bank, and BB&T may be feeling additional pressure after having its capital plan denied by the Fed in March. In the meantime, the bank continues to report numbers that hearken back to an era before the 2008 financial crisis, and show no signs of slowing down. Should the bank be able to place its tax liability firmly in the past, there is no reason investors should be dissatisfied with the bank's performance going forward.

Fool contributor Robert Eberhard has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.