Profits at Fulton Financial in Lancaster, Pa., surged 21% in the third quarter compared with a year earlier thanks largely to robust fee income growth and tight expense control.

Fulton, which operates six subsidiary banks in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia, reported net income of $41.1 million in the quarter.

Fee income rose $5.1 million to $48.1 million. Fulton credited strong mortgage banking revenue and gains on the sale of Small Business Administration loans for the fee-income growth.

Noninterest expenses fell by $5.1 million to $119.8 million. That decline helped the $18.7 billion-asset company's efficiency ratio improve to 65.1% from 68.8% a year earlier.

Fulton's asset quality remained solid. Nonaccrual loans totaled $124 million as of Sept. 30, or 0.86% of total loans. That total was down slightly from Sept. 30, 2015, when nonaccruals were $132.1 million, or 0.98% of total loans.

"We were pleased with the third-quarter results," E. Phillip Wenger, Fulton's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "Despite a challenging interest rate and operating environment, we were able to grow revenues and reduce expenses, which enabled us to drive positive operating leverage for the quarter."

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