A wider net interest spread and robust consumer loan growth drove third-quarter earnings at Barnett Banks Inc. to $134.1 million, 9% above a year earlier.

Barnett's earnings on a per-share basis came in at $1.29, essentially in line with Wall Street consensus estimates.

The major factor in Barnett's performance was improved net interest income, up 6% to $446.9 million, and an acquisitions-related boost in noninterest income, which gained 32% to $182.7 million. Barnett has been reaping good returns from Equicredit Corp., a consumer loan company it purchased in the first quarter.

"We've had continued revenue growth," said chief financial officer Charles W. "Chuck" Newman. "A lot of banks have talked about hitting the revenue wall and not seeing the increase, but we are seeing the increase," he said.

Mr. Newman said Barnett's loan growth was 9% annualized in the third quarter, steady with the previous quarter. Since commercial loans were flat and commercial real estate slightly down, residential mortgages and consumer installment growth set the pace, he said.

The consumer focus has helped Barnett maintain a stable net interest margin at a time when other banks are being squeezed between declining commercial loan yields and rising deposit costs. Barnett's margin actually rose 10 basis points from the second quarter, to 4.90%.

"The one thing that might have surprised people was the margin improvement," said analyst Ruchi Madan of Prudential Securities. Ms. Madan said she had expected Barnett's margin to improve but not as much as it did.

Mr. Newman attributed the wider spread to overall loan growth, which has increased the percentage of loans to earning assets from 81.4% in the second quarter to 83% in the third. It also helped that high-yielding installment loans made up much of that growth.

In addition, Barnett benefited from upward repricing in its adjustable rate mortgage portfolio and a slowing down of the migration of deposits from transaction accounts into certificates of deposit, Mr. Newman said.

The only negative for Barnett in the third quarter was a $6.7 million increase in net chargeoffs from the previous quarter. Mr. Newman said more than half of the $34 million total came from credit cards. "I think we're seeing the same thing you're seeing in the industry," Mr. Newman said. "Is it a trend? I think we'll just have to wait a couple of quarters and see what happens."

Barnett's credit card portfolio, despite recent growth, is relatively small for a bank its size, with $1.4 billion of outstandings.

Elsewhere in the region, Baton Rouge-based Premier Bancorp earned $18.5 million in the quarter, 7.5% less than the $20 million reported in the year-ago quarter, due to higher expenses and a $2 million recovery from the reserve in the prior period. Premier, which is scheduled to be acquired by Banc One Corp. at yearend, has $5.5 billion of assets. +++ Barnett Banks Inc. Jacksonville, Fla.

Dollar amounts in millions (except per share) Third Quarter 3Q95 3Q94 Net income $134.1 $123.4 Per share 1.29 1.18 ROA 1.30% 1.30% ROE 16.54% 16.78% Net interest margin 4.90% 4.85% Net interest income 446.9 419.8 Noninterest income 182.7 138.1 Noninterest expense 379.3 340.3 Loss provision 34.2 15.4 Net chargeoffs 34.0 15.4 Year to Date 1995 1994 Net income $395.0 $362.6 Per share 3.78 3.45 ROA 1.28% 1.28% ROE 16.46% 16.71% Net interest margin 4.83% 4.90% Net interest income 1,312.9 1,251.3 Noninterest income 528.6 412.8 Noninterest expense 1,124.7 1,022.7 Loss provision 85.3 48.5 Net chargeoffs 85.8 48.4 Balance Sheet 9/30/95 9/30/94 Assets $41,175.0 $38,962.0 Deposits 33,248.0 31,606.0 Loans 30,469.0 27,372.0 Reserve/nonp. loans 242% 239% Nonperf. loans/loans 0.68% 0.80% Nonperf. assets/assets 0.68% 0.70% Nonperf. assets/loans + OREO 0.92% 1.10% Leverage cap. ratio 6.35% 7.66% Tier 1 cap. ratio NA NA Tier 1+2 cap. ratio NA NA ===

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