Earnings slip doesn’t shake Huntington chief

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Huntington Bancshares’ second-quarter profit edged lower even as the bank continues to gain more customers.

Yesterday, the company reported profit of $150.7 million for the quarter that ended on June 30, down about $2 million from the year-ago period. Huntington made 17 cents per share for both periods.

The results for the most-recent quarter beat analysts’ estimates by a penny.

Revenue dropped to $680.2 million for the period compared with $688.5 million from the same quarter a year ago as both interest income and noninterest income fell.

Huntington shares rose 16 cents on the report, or nearly 2 percent, to $8.40 in trading yesterday. The shares are just off a multiyear high of $8.66 that was hit earlier this month.

A drop in mortgage-banking income as interest rates rose during the quarter hurt results, the bank said. Expenses also were higher than the year-ago period and the bank reported higher personnel costs as it continues its expansion into Giant Eagle stores in Ohio and Meijer stores in Michigan.

Still, Steve Steinour, the bank’s chairman, president and CEO, was happy with the results. He said the bank is benefiting from an improving economy, especially in the Midwest where the auto sector is doing well and housing is on the rebound.

Credit-card debt is up, unemployment is getting better, companies in the Midwest are investing more and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is talking about winding down some of the steps his agency has taken to help the economy, he said.

“The fundamentals underlying this message are that he believes the economy is getting better,” Steinour said.

The bank added nearly 30,000 new checking accounts last quarter and has now more than 300,000 new accounts since it launched a series of consumer-friendly initiatives nearly three years ago that waives fees if overdrafts are covered within 24 hours and keeps checking accounts fee free with no conditions, Steinour said. The bank has 1.3 million households with a checking account, an increase of 34 percent during that period.

The bank said nearly half of its consumer customers have six or more accounts or services with the bank.

“We’ll keep working on driving that number. That will be important for us,” Steinour said.

Steinour said Huntington’s goal is to continue to take market share in its footprint.

“We want more products and we want more products per customer,” he said.

Terry McEvoy, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co., said those gains that Huntington is making with its grocery store and consumer strategy has set the bank apart from many competitors.

“When we do see a stronger economy, their growth in market share could drive a stronger return,” he said. “The real upside is yet to come because of household growth.”

Still, fee revenue was weaker in the quarter, he said.

“They, like any other bank, need to see a stronger economy to see the loan portion going,” McEvoy said.

Huntington also announced that it was freezing its pension plan for workers at the end of the year.

The bank said fewer than half of its employees are enrolled in the pension plan, which Huntington stopped offering for new hires in 2009. Employees will keep the pension benefits they have earned to date, and the bank said it will have a revised offering of 401(k) options for employees next year.

The bank’s decision follows those of other companies that have opted to take similar steps in recent years.

mawilliams@dispatch.com