Magazine article American Banker

SunTrust Net Tops Street; '03 an Open Question: Joins Fifth Third, Zions in Opting out of Profit Guidance

Magazine article American Banker

SunTrust Net Tops Street; '03 an Open Question: Joins Fifth Third, Zions in Opting out of Profit Guidance

Article excerpt

Anyone looking for signs from SunTrust Banks Inc.'s earnings report Wednesday that 2003 would be a better year came away empty-handed -- not so much because of what it said, but rather because of what it left out.

That is because SunTrust, typically the first major banking company to report earnings each quarter, became the latest to cease offering specific guidance on profit expectations.

Its fourth quarter was slightly better than expected. Profits fell 4.6% from a year earlier, to $340 million, but earnings per share of $1.20 beat the consensus by 2 cents. A lower tax rate helped it overcome sluggish revenue growth, and credit quality showed signs of improving.

But L. Phillip Humann, SunTrust's chief executive, refused to preview this year, which he said brings more uncertainty than he and many of his colleagues had ever seen.

"You can come up with at least one handful of scenarios that go from not much to something that looks pretty good. None of us have any conviction which of these components are going to kick in," he said on a conference call.

The decision not to offer guidance bothered some analysts, who spent the call prying for a forecast anyway.

Gerry Cronin, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, considered the results a "mixed bag" and said: "The conference call was pretty disappointing to most people. It's certainly not the way I'd like to see the earnings season start."

Nancy Bush, an independent analyst who runs NAB Research in Annandale, N. …

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