Good loan growth and tight expense controls helped fourth- quarter earnings at two North Carolina-based banks.

Wachovia Corp., Winston-Salem, netted $142.1 million, up 16% from the year-ago quarter. Wachovia's earnings per share of 82 cents exceeded consensus estimates by one cent.

First Union Corp. demonstrated good core results. But its reported earnings were marred by a previously announced redemption premium on 6.3 million shares of preferred stock, which cost it 24 cents a share in the quarter.

First Union earned $183.4 million, or $1.04 a share, down 3% from $190 million in the year-ago quarter. Without the redemption premium, it would have earned $224.7 million, or $1.28 a share, representing an 18% gain over the 1993 quarter.

First Union also took a $10 million securities loss in the fourth quarter, in order to realign its portfolio to accommodate rising interest rates, which cost it 3 cents a share.

Wachovia did not take a similar charge. But chief financial officer Robert S. McCoy Jr. said the bank was sitting on $62 million of unrecognized losses in its available-for-sale account and may consider restructuring its portfolio in the first quarter.

Both Tar Heel banks reported strong loan growth, up 5% for First Union in the quarter and 3% for Wachovia, which securitized $125 million of credit card loans. Commercial loans led the surge at First Union, with particular strength in Florida and North Carolina.

Rick Highfield, First Union's senior vice president and manager of credit policy, said in a conference call that the company believes it can sustain this momentum into the first quarter, but expects the rate of loan growth to "flatten out" later in the year.

Expense control was a major theme at both banks. First Union held noninterest expense to $703.9 million, 21% below the year-ago level. Wachovia reported a 6% decline in the same category, to $282.5 million.

First Union ended the year flush with deposits because of some recent thrift acquisitions. But Wachovia actually showed a 1% drop to $23 billion, from $23.4 billion at the end of 1993.

Mr. McCoy said Wachovia, which relied heavily on wholesale funding in 1994, expects to pay up this year for more core deposits in selected markets. "We will be emphasizing deposits more going forward than non- deposit funding," he said.

First Union showed a strong improvement in credit quality, with net chargeoffs falling 11% to $52.8 million and the loan-loss provision down 5% to $25 million.

Wachovia, on the other hand, saw an increase in both categories. Its net chargeoffs were up 12% to $19.4 million and the provision jumped 9% to $19.5 million. Mr. McCoy attributed this mostly to a rise in credit card delinquencies.

Three other southeastern banks reported lower-than-expected earnings Thursday.

Richmond-based Crestar Financial Corp., which has $14 billion of assets, reported net income of $42.4 million, up 9% from $38.7 million in the year- ago period. But its $1.13 in earnings per-share came in 4 cents below consensus estimates, largely due to a $9 million securities loss.

Earnings at First Commerce Corp. were also marred by a securities loss - for the third consecutive quarter. The New Orleans-based bank, which has $6.6 billion of assets, took an after-tax securities loss of $11.3 million and another $2.3 million charge related to an ongoing reegineering project.

As a result, net income fell to $9.1 million, down 60% from $22.8 million in the year-ago quarter. Earnings per share of 30 cents came in 9 cents below consensus estimates.

Premier Bancorp Inc., Baton Rouge, earned $17.8 million, down 8% from $19.4 million in the year-ago quarter due to acquisition-related charges. Premier, with $5.4 billion of assets, earned 51 cents in the quarter, 11 cents below consensus estimates. +++ Wachovia Corp. Salem, N.C. Dollar amounts in millions (except per share) Fourth Quarter 4Q94 4Q93 Net income $142.1 $123.0 Per share 0.82 0.71 ROA 1.49% 1.39% ROE 17.84% 16.77% Net interest margin 4.37% 4.44% Net interest income 371.5 350.9 Noninterest income 156.8 159.7 Noninterest expense 282.5 299.7 Loss provision 19.5 18.0 Net chargeoffs 19.4 17.3 Full Year 1994 1993 Net income $539.1 $492.1 Per share 3.12 2.81 ROA 1.46% 1.46% ROE 17.41% 17.13% Net interest margin 04.34% 4.64% Net interest income 1,424.1 1,382.7 Noninterest income 07.8 627.6 Noninterest expense 1,098.4 1,131.2 Loss provision 71.8 92.7 Net chargeoffs 70.4 67.4 Balance Sheet 12/94 12/93 Assets $39,188 $36,526 Deposits 23,069 23,352 Loans 25,891 22,977 Reserve/nonp. loans 516% 372% Nonperf. loans/loans 0.30% 0.47% Nonperf. assets/assets 0.39% 0.67% Leverage cap. ratio 8.53% 8.44% Tier 1 cap. ratio 9.3% 9.7% Tier 1+2 cap. ratio 12.8% 12.9% First Union Corp. Charlotte Dollar amounts in millions (except per share) Fourth Quarter 4Q94 4Q93 Net income $183.4 $189.9 Per share 1.04 1.12 ROA 1.22% 1.07% ROE 12.99% 15.55% Net interest margin 4.71% 4.61% Net interest income 801.7 733.3 Noninterest income 311.4 317.7 Noninterest expense 703.9 887.9 Loss provision 25.0 50.0 Net chargeoffs 52.8 59.2 Full Year 1994 1993 Net income $858.7 $792.6 Per share 4.98 4.73 ROA 1.27% 1.20% ROE 16.26% 17.42% Net interest margin 4.77% 4.78% Net interest income 3,126.5 2,886.7 Noninterest income 1,166.5 1,165.1 Noninterest expense 2,677.2 2,521.6 Loss provision 100.0 221.8 Net chargeoffs 182.9 251.7 Balance Sheet 12/94 12/93 Assets $77,314 $70,787 Deposits 58,958 53,742 Loans 53,051 45,856 Reserve/nonp. loans 245% 147% Nonperf. loans/loans 0.75% 1.44% Nonperf. assets/assets 1.03% 1.95% Leverage cap. ratio 6.13% 6.13% Tier 1 cap. ratio 8.31% 9.14% Tier 1+2 cap. ratio 13.64% 14.64% ===

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