ST. LOUIS -- Boatmen's Bancshares Inc. expects the same growth rate in the second half that lifted first-half earnings 31% over those of a year earlier, chairman Andrew Craig said.

Mr. Craig said in an interview that the St. Louis-based company should continue to benefit from higher trust and other non-interest income and wide interest rate spreads.

Second-quarter earnings rose to $52.3 million, or $1.30 a share, from $39.9 million, or $1.02 a share, a year earlier.

The $19.7 billion-asset company also reported that nonperforming assets declined in the quarter, to $307.9 million from $339.9 million.

Mr. Craig said the decline reflected a slight improvement in central Midwest real estate markets.

Clear Sailing Seen

He added that though commercial realty in the St. Louis area will remain weak for two to three years, he expected nonperforming assets to keep falling.

The company has identified all potential problem loans and has seen no new ones for at least a year, Mr. Craig said. "Therefore we do not anticipate any new problems."

Meanwhile, commercial loan demand has been inching up, particularly from small to medium-size companies.

"I've been out visiting various locations in the last month or so, and those types of companies are reasonably optimistic about their businesses," Mr. Craig said.

He added that the opening of Kansas to acquisitions by banks in contiguous states presents Boatmen's with opportunities to expand into a healthy market.

Just hours after Kansas opened its banking borders on July 1, Mercantile Bancorp. of St. Louis Boatmen's close rival, said it would acquire MidAmerican Corp. and Johnson County Bankshares Inc., both based in the Kansas City suburb of Prairie Village.

The two targets' assets total $1.1 billion.

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