Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE:BK) reported first-quarter earnings on Wednesday, and while tidings are grim, they're aren't quite as grim as they first appear. Here are three key takeaways for investors.

1. Net-income loss of $266 million
Savvy investors saw this one coming, but it's a shock to see it in black-and-white nonetheless. The bank had previously announced it was going to take a $854 million hit for disallowed foreign-tax credits, courtesy of U.S. Tax Court, but first-quarter 2013 is where the rubber met the road. 

The nearly billion-dollar charge came right off BNY Mellon's bottom line, changing what would have been a $588 million profit into the aforementioned $266 million loss, translating into earnings per common share of -$0.23. The bank plans to appeal the tax court's ruling.  

The silver lining here? BNY Mellon isn't Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), which can almost be counted on to have some big charge or write-off every quarter, typically relating back to misbehavior committed during the housing boom. BNY Mellon operates very conservatively, so investors can reasonably assume that this big bottom-line hit was a one-off.

2. Management and servicing fees are up
BNY Mellon is reporting that investment management and performance fees were up 10% year over year, assets under management were up 9% year over year, and asset servicing fees were up 3% year over year. Why is this such a big deal?

BNY Mellon is what's known as a "trust bank." It's essentially a bank for other banks, as well as for corporations. Trust banks make the bulk of their money from the fees and services they provide to said banks and corporations, so it's big news when these fees are up.

The downside to trust banks is that their earnings are more susceptible to whatever market forces are driving business at the banks and corporations they service. The upside to trust banks is that large banks and businesses are arguably less volatile and less prone to the kinds of sudden mood swings that can affect banks whose business relies primarily on consumers.

3. Total revenue was down slightly
BNY Mellon is reporting that total revenue was down 1% year over year. This result can be spun as either good news or bad news, but is in reality a bit of both.

Versus other big banks reporting for the first quarter, a drop in revenue of only 1% is good. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) reported a nearly 4% drop in year-over-year total revenue. And Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) reported a 1.4% drop. It's tough out there, and BNY Mellon is holding its own. At least that's one way of looking at it.

The other way of looking at it is, a drop in total revenue is never a good thing. But there's a silver lining: BNY Mellon doesn't have any structural or operational flaws that are keeping its revenues down. If it weren't such a well-run operation, the situation would very likely be worse, and investors would be seeing a revenue drop of far more than 1%.

Foolish bottom line
Count your blessings, Fools. It's been a mixed quarter for many of the big banks. Excepting the $854 million tax charge that pushed net-income far into the red, it was a pretty solid quarter for BNY Mellon. Due to a history of smart, low-drama, conservative leadership, the prototypical bank-for-other-banks is holding its own in a challenging economic environment -- and remains a good investment.

Fool contributor John Grgurich owns shares of JPMorgan Chase. Follow John's dispatches from the bleeding heart of capitalism on Twitter @TMFGrgurich.

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