With its fourth-quarter 2008 results now in, US Bancorp (NYSE:USB) proves that although the banking sector as a whole is experiencing its greatest crisis since the Great Depression, not all lenders are suffering equally.

That's an obvious statement, but it's easy to forget when the KBW Bank Index has already lost more than 40% this year, thanks largely to declines exceeding 50% in two of its largest components: Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC). Investors are treating the banking sector like a leper colony and giving it a wide berth.

A few shiny numbers
In that context, it's instructive to look at some numbers. In 2008 -- which will be remembered as one of the worst years ever for banks -- US Bancorp managed to earn almost $3 billion. The fourth quarter was profitable, to the tune of $330 million. Yes, loan loss and delinquency ratios increased during the quarter, but in many cases, the rate of increase has slowed.

Financially, the bank looks like to be on a sure footing, with a tangible common equity-to-assets ratio of 4.5% -- and for a reference point, the same ratio for JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) is 3.8%. There is little or no risk that the fourth-quarter acquisition of failed lenders Downey Financial and PFF Bank from the FDIC will erode that strength, either. The acquisitions were negotiated to include generous loss-sharing agreements from the outset and are much smaller than that of Merrill Lynch by BofA, for example. (Don't expect any covert meetings with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve in this case.)

Finally, as I have written in the past, the most conservative, best-capitalized lenders will take business from competitors in a financial crisis. At US Bancorp, organic average loan growth was 12.7% year-on-year in the fourth quarter, with average deposit growth up 9.6%. Who said banks aren't lending?

The bottom line for value hunters
US Bancorp must be a "buy" in this sector, right? Well, at 1.33 times book value per share and nearly three times tangible book value per share, shares don't look particularly cheap.

If you're looking at banks with an opportunistic eye (not a bad idea), I think there may be better bargains among less prominent, regional names, including Regions Financial (NYSE:RF), KeyCorp (NYSE:KEY) and SunTrust Banks (NYSE:STI), and even more so among local lenders. Sorry, US Bancorp, but it looks as if your reputation precedes you -- and that's no help to a value investor.

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Fool contributor Alex Dumortier, CFA, has no beneficial interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article. US Bancorp and JPMorgan Chase are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Bank of America is a former Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.