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Northwest's profits increase 19%

Northwest Bancshares said Monday that fourth-quarter profits rose 19.1 percent from a year ago, as a drop in loan and fee revenues was offset by lower operating costs and a lower provision to cover loan losses.

The Warren, Pa.-based company, which operates 168 branches in four states as Northwest Savings Bank, reported profits of $15.2 million, or 16 cents per share, up from $12.7 million, or 12 cents per share, a year ago.

Profits fell 8.9 percent from $16.7 million, or 17 cents per share, in the third quarter.

For the full year, profits rose 11.5 percent to $64.1 million, or 64 cents per share, from $57.5 million, or 53 cents per share, in 2010.

The company also raised its quarterly cash dividend by a penny per share, or 9.1 percent, to 12 cents per share. The dividend will be paid Feb. 16 to shareholders of record on Feb. 2. That marks the 69th straight quarter in which Northwest has paid a dividend.

However, the bank curtailed stock buybacks in the fourth quarter, as the stock's market value rose sharply. Only 170,000 shares were repurchased, compared with 5.8 million in the third quarter.

Shares fell 10 cents, or 0.78 percent, to $12.64 Monday.

"We were pleased with most areas of our operations for the most recent quarter and the 2011 calendar year," said President and CEO William J. Wagner.

Net interest income from taking deposits and making loans fell 1 percent to $66.5 million.

Similarly, fee income fell 7.4 percent to $14 million, largely from a $1.5 million drop in mortgage banking income, which swung to a loss of $29,000 because the bank is retaining most of its mortgage loans instead of selling them onto the secondary market.

What helped the bank was the expense side. The bank set aside $10.5 million for loan losses in the fourth quarter, down 25 percent from a year ago, as the volume of bad loans on its books fell by 11.6 percent.

Northwest operates 14 branches in Western New York, including five in Chautauqua County under the Jamestown Savings Bank brand. Besides its branches in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland, the bank also has 52 consumer finance offices in the Keystone State as Northwest Consumer Discount Company.

In a separate announcement, Northwest subsidiary Northwest Capital Group bought the assets of Bemus Bay Investments, which developed the 40-unit Bemus Bay Condominium project in the Village of Bemus Point.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com