BancorpSouth (BXS) in Tupelo, Miss., reported a big jump in profit as credit quality continued to improve.

The $13 billion-asset company's fourth-quarter earnings rose 63% from a year earlier, to $27.7 million. Earnings per share of 29 cents were a penny better than the average estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg.

BancorpSouth's net interest income rose 2% from a year earlier, to $102.4 million. BancorpSouth reported its third straight quarter of loan growth. Its net interest margin widened by 8 basis points from the fourth quarter of 2012, to 3.52%.

Noninterest income fell 8% from a year earlier, to $65.1 million. The results included a positive mortgage servicing rights valuation adjustment of $2.9 million, which was offset by a steep decline in mortgage lending.

Noninterest expense fell 11% from a year earlier, to $127.8 million. BancorpSouth benefited from lower foreclosed property expenses, which plummeted 77% from the fourth quarter of 2012, to $2.8 million. A decrease in salaries and employee benefits costs also contributed to the decline.

BancorpSouth did not record a loan-loss provision in the fourth quarter, compared to a $6 million provision during the same period a year ago. Net chargeoffs fell 94%, to $0.7 million.

The company acquired the Gem Insurance Agencies in Houston on Dec. 18. The insurance agency produces annual commission revenues of $9 million.

BancorpSouth also announced two bank acquisitions this month. It plans to pay about $210 million for Central Community in Temple, Texas, and $112 million for Ouachita Bancshares in Monroe, La.

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