Five months of looking for a buyer hasn't kept Bankers First Corp. of Augusta, Ga., from racking up its most profitable quarter ever.

The $1.1 billion-asset thrift company this week reported third-quarter net income of $3.4 million, a 19% increase from a year earlier. The gains were attributed to income from real estate operations, which jumped to $361,000 from a $32,000 loss last year, and core earnings.

"It was a good quarter in the sale of development properties," said the thrift's chief financial officer, Glenn W. Peters, who refused to comment on the acquisition talks. "That continues to be on track."

Reducing real estate investments and nonperforming assets has been a goal of the company in recent years. H.M. "Monty" Osteen, chief executive of Bankers First, has repeatedly said that he didn't want to sell the company until it had accomplished significant improvement in those areas.

Mr. Osteen said the goal was achieved last spring, shortly after management was defeated in a fierce proxy fight by shareholders who sided with a well-known thrift investor, Mid-Atlantic Investors of Columbia, S.C.

Most observers believed the thrift company would have been sold by now. After shareholders last May voted in favor of all four of Mid-Atlantic's proposals - most important, to sell the company - Mr. Osteen announced that Bankers First had begun talks with interested acquirers.

"It's taking longer than in previous cases," said Jerry Shearer, managing partner of Mid-Atlantic, who has pressured three other thrifts to sell after he invested in them.

"If they had been taken over by Bank South last year at $26 a share, then what would it be worth today, now that NationsBank is taking over Bank South?" he said. "Maybe $40."

Bankers First is currently trading at about $29.

Rumors continue to swirl over what is happening at the thrift, and interested acquirers visit the company's headquarters frequently, observers in Augusta said.

Despite the hoopla, the company continues to generate solid numbers. Returns on assets and equity were 1.26% and 14.37%, it reported. Nonperforming assets actually remained unchanged for the quarter - at 0.70% of total assets - but restructured loans and performing loans 90 days past due dropped 34% during the past year, the thrift said.

The provision for foreclosed real estate dropped by two-thirds, to $50,000, Mr. Peters said.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.