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Three area banks rank among 25 best

Three upstate New York banks including Buffalo-based First Niagara Financial Group -- are ranked among the nation's 25 best-performing regional commercial banks based on profitability and other key factors, according to a new report by an industry research firm.

Community Bank System of DeWitt, First Niagara and NBT Bancorp of Norwich were ranked among the leading regional commercial banks, coming in 8th, 13th and 17th, respectively, according to the compilation by Charlottesville, Va.-based SNL Financial. They were the only banks operating in New York State on the list.

Only Arkansas, where the top two and the 16th banks in the ranking operate, had as many institutions on the list.

In the ranking, SNL took banks with less than $50 billion in assets but more than 60 branches, that are considered "well-capitalized" by regulators. A total of 96 companies fit that bill, although some banks -- such as Warren, Pa.-based Northwest Bancorp -- were excluded because they are savings banks, not commercial banks.

The ranking itself was based on six core measures of financial performance that focus on profitability, asset quality and growth for 2011, with the banks scored by how much their performance in each factor exceeded the industry average.

First Niagara was the largest of the top 25, with $32.8 billion in assets. It was among the least profitable of the group and had very high expenses, but had the third-highest growth rate and one of the lowest loss levels. Community Bank System was among the five most profitable, with low losses but high expenses and middle-of-the-road growth.

NBT, which operates in the Binghamton and Albany areas, had low losses, high expenses, middle-of-the-road profitability and slower growth.

Nineteen of the 25 banks -- including all three upstate New York banks but only two of the Arkansas banks -- are also publicly traded.

A fourth New York State banking company, National Americas Holdings LLC, also made the list at No. 18, but it does not operate in the state. It is based in New York City, is owned by National Australia Bank and is the parent of a regional, multistate bank based in South Dakota, Great Western Bank, with no branches anywhere near the Northeast.