Washington Mutual, the largest U.S. savings and loan, on Tuesday said its first-quarter home-lending income fell nearly tenfold, to $38 million, compared with $323 million during the same period last year.

Growth in WaMu’s credit card operations helped save the day, propelling first-quarter profit for the savings and loan 9 percent.

“The slowing housing market contributed to the decline in gain on sale of loans compared with the prior quarter and last year’s first quarter,” the company said in a statement.

Net income for the Seattle-based company rose to $985 million, or 98 cents per share, from $902 million, or $1.01 per share, a year earlier.

Profit per share fell because Washington Mutual had more shares outstanding than a year earlier.

The company benefited from the thrift’s acquisition of credit card issuer Providian Financial Corp. last October. Washington Mutual said it opened 256,000 retail credit card accounts in the quarter, giving it 417,000 since October.

This helped offset pressure from a narrowing of the bank’s net interest margin, which fell to 2.75 percent from 2.88 percent at year end, and 2.83 percent a year earlier.

Many banks have been unable to pass on their higher borrowing costs from rising short-term interest rates, because long-term rates have not risen similarly.

Reporting on the performance of its home loans group, the bank said “the increase in short-term interest rates and the flat yield curve, in conjunction with a smaller portfolio of loans outstanding, contributed to the 35 percent decline in net interest income on a linked quarter basis.”

The company also said, “Efficiency initiatives reduce expenses,” citing WaMu’s decision to consolidate 26 processing offices and lay off about 2,500 workers.

Washington Mutual shares closed Tuesday at $44.46 on the New York Stock Exchange, up 49 cents.

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