Some companies are able to manufacture their own growth, and Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation U.S. Bancorp (NYSE:USB) is one of them. No, I'm not talking about the kind of manufactured growth we saw at Enron or "World-con." Rather, I mean implementing tight expense control and squeezing out growth potential from across the business even though top-line expansion is limited.

This large Midwestern bank finished the year with just 3% growth in net revenue, while net income rose 8.2% and earnings per share were up almost 11%. Right off the bat, you see that the bank lowered its already very good expense ratio even further this quarter -- coming in at 43.3% versus 48.5% last year and 43.8% in the third quarter. Very few banks can operate at such a low expense level, let alone find the wherewithal to continue lowering the number even further.

Non-interest income was also a source of strength, climbing 7.7% in the quarter. While there were some areas of weakness (treasury management and commercial products), most of the larger businesses like credit cards, corporate payment products, and trust management showed growth.

And it's a good thing that non-interest income did well, because interest income did not. Net interest income was actually down almost 1% this quarter, as increases in borrowing costs outstripped growth in both average earnings asset balances and the yield on those assets. Said differently, the flatter yield curve whacked them again, pushing the net interest margin down to 3.88% (versus 4.2% a year ago).

All in all, I think U.S. Bancorp came through a tough quarter in pretty fair shape. Return on assets and equity both climbed a bit, and growth in net income still outstripped growth in book value by a pretty fair margin. What's more, the company remains highly focused on returning capital to shareholders -- paying both a healthy dividend and conducting share repurchases in the open market.

Banks aren't getting a lot of love just yet, and I'm not sure when that will change. Nevertheless, U.S. Bancorp still compares pretty favorably to other banks of similar size and scope, such as Fifth Third (NASDAQ:FITB), National City (NYSE:NCC), and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), and may even be an investment two-for-one -- a stock that appeals to both income-oriented investors and value investors looking for a sector turnaround.

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U.S. Bancorp and National City are both Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. For a 30-day free trial to the newsletter service for dividend lovers, click here.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).