published Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

SunTrust Bank earnings hit $245 million

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SunTrust Banks Inc. gave out more mortgage loans to its customers and commercial loans to businesses in the first three months of the year, which boosted earnings at the bank to $245 million, compared to $38 million in the same period last year.

The Atlanta-based bank, which operates one of Chattanooga's biggest banks with more than $1.5 billion in local assets, said Monday it earned 46 cents a share on revenue of $2.22 billion, a slight increase from $2.16 billion last year. The bank beat the 33 cents a share earnings expectations from analysts surveyed by data provider FactSet.

Overall loans at SunTrust increased 6 percent. The government played a key role in SunTrust's new loans, which reflected the continued skittishness in the lending markets. Sequentially, government-guaranteed mortgage loans grew by $1.2 billion and government-guaranteed student loans increased by $1.3 billion.

Commercial loans increased by $1.1 billion from the fourth quarter, signaling that businesses are starting to feel more confident and are investing in the country's economic growth.

More of the bank's customers also are able to make their payments on time, reflecting broader trends that show Americans are getting their financial houses in order by paying down debt and saving more. Loans that were charged off fell to $422 million in the quarter compared to $571 million for the first quarter of 2011.

However, new regulation that went into effect in October last year hurt the bank's ability to collect fees from debit cards. They fell by $39 million to $61 million. A law championed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., capped the amount banks charge stores for debit card transactions at 24 cents. Before the law, the average debit card transaction netted the bank 44 cents.

Despite the overall decline in the market Monday, SunTrust bank shares rose 63 cents to close at $23.23.

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