Fueled by a lower provision for loan losses and rising net interest income, Cathay General Bancorp's profits surged more than 68% in the fourth quarter, to $23.6 million, from a year earlier.

The $10.6 billion-asset company also said after markets closed Monday that it returned to the black for the year, reporting a profits $83.7 million compared with a loss of $4.8 million for 2010. The company's fourth-quarter earnings per share totaled 30 cents, beating consensus analysts' estimates by a penny.

Cathay's fourth-quarter loan-loss provision and net chargeoffs each declined by about 80% from a year earlier. The loan-loss provision totaled to $2 million while chargeoffs were $4.6 million. The company's expenses for related to foreclosed properties totaled almost $2 million, down more than 81% from a year earlier.

The net interest income for the fourth quarter grew by 18.5% year over year, to $77.3 million. The rise was due to a decrease in interest expense paid on time certificates of deposits and the prepayment of Federal Home Loan Bank advances.

Commercial loans climbed almost 30% during 2011, to $1.9 billion.

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