A class-action settlement drove down fourth-quarter profits at BancorpSouth in Tupelo, Miss.

The $13.8 billion-asset company said Monday after the market closed that it earned $21.2 million, down roughly 26% from a year earlier.

Noninterest expenses rose 14%, to $148.4 million. It took a $16.5 million legal charge related to its settlement of a lawsuit involving how it determined overdraft fees on debit card and ATM transactions. The settlement, including estimated administrative fees, totaled $24.5 million, with $8 million of that amount having accrued in prior years.

Net interest revenue rose more than 4%, to $111.2 million, even though the net interest margin fell two basis points, to 3.58%. Loans and leases increased roughly 7%, to $10.4 billion, from a year earlier, as commercial real estate loans increased 11%, to $2.2 billion.

BancorpSouth's noninterest revenue totaled $67.4 million, up roughly 6%. Mortgage-lending income more than tripled, to $10.5 million, which was partially offset by a more than 5% decline in deposit service charges.

BancorpSouth did not record a provision for credit losses in the fourth quarter. Net chargeoffs totaled $6.6 million, more than four times higher than a year earlier.

BancorpSouth also disclosed that it is in settlement discussions with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Justice Department regarding the agencies' investigation of the company's fair lending practices.

"While it is too early to speculate on the potential timing or outcome of these discussions, we are pleased that these agencies have opened this dialogue with us and we are working toward a resolution," Dan Rollins, BancorpSouth's chairman and chief executive, said in the release. "However, if we are able to reach a settlement of this investigation, there is no guarantee that the terms would permit our pending mergers to move forward."

The company has been looking to buy Ouachita Bancshares in Monroe, La., and Central Community Corp. in Temple, Texas.

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