Barnett Banks Inc. said Wednesday that it earned $138.3 million in the fourth quarter, up 10% from a year earlier, because of a surge in acquisition-related fee income and an improved net interest margin.

Barnett's $1.35 in earnings per share beat Wall Street's consensus estimates by 2 cents, partly attributable to a 3-cent-a-share gain from the sale of Bank South Corp. stock.

Barnett had acquired the 20 million shares through a sale of its Atlanta bank to Bank South in 1983, and cashed in when Bank South sold out to NationsBank Corp. NationsBank's acquisition of Bank South closed on Tuesday.

For the full year 1995, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Barnett earned $533.3 million, a 9% gain from 1994. Revenues grew 11% for the year, excluding securities transactions.

"The thing we've been working on is revenue growth," said chief financial officer Charles W. "Chuck" Newman. "We're seeing that kick in, and we've had the opportunity to invest so we can continue that in the future."

Barnett's stock fell only slightly by late Wednesday afternoon, on a day that saw bank stocks generally get hammered because of the breakdown in federal budget talks.

"Bottom line, it was a pretty solid quarter," said Dean Witter analyst Anthony R. Davis, who predicted Barnett's earnings would grow 10% to 11% this year.

Key to Barnett's performance was a net interest margin that improved 15 basis points from the third quarter, and 25 basis points from the year- earlier quarter. Mr. Newman attributed the margin strength to the upward pricing of adjustable-rate mortgages, a reduction in nonperforming loans, and a change in the bank's loan mix.

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