Associated Banc-Corp (ASBC) of Green Bay, Wis., is coming off its most profitable quarter since before the financial crisis.

The $21.9 billion-asset company said after markets closed Thursday that it earned $41 million in the quarter that ended March 31, an increase of 167% over the same period last year and the most it has earned in any single quarter since 2008. Its earnings per share of 24 cents beat by a penny the consensus estimates of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

In a news release, Associated attributed its results to improved credit metrics and increases in loan balances and fee income.

With its nonperforming assets down 33% year over year and potential problem loans down 47%, the company took no provision for loan losses in the quarter. By comparison, it set aside $31 million for loan losses in last year's first quarter.

Total loan balances increased by 13% year over year, due to strong mortgage refinancing activity and increased commercial lending. Net interest income rose just 0.6%, however, due to declining yields on loans.

Associated's noninterest income climbed 13%, to $81.6 million, thanks primarily to a more than 8,500% increase in fees from mortgage banking. That surge in fees more than offset a 30% drop in card-based income as a result of new caps on interchange fees.

Associated's shares fell four cents Thursday to close at $13.41 Thursday.

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