Ohio's Fifth Third Bancorp on Friday posted second-quarter earnings of $57.4 million, a 20% increase, while Wisconsin's First Financial Corp. said a special charge lowered earnings by 33%, to $7.5 million.

The performance of Fifth Third, a $12.8 billion-asset banking company based in Cincinnati, marked a continuation of high and longstanding profitability. It posted a 1.81% return on average assets.

First Financial, a $5 billionasset thrift holding company based in Stevens Point, said it expected a healthy rebound from the second quarter, which was sapped by a $6 million aftertax charge stemming from writedowns of certain mortgage-backed securities. It posted a 0.61% return on assets.

Fifth Third, one of the most profitable banking companies in the nation, said annualized returns equaled 1.81% on assets, up 2 basis points; and 18.4% on equity, up 3 basis points.

The banking company said average loans rose 15.8% from a year ago, but that its net interest margin sank by 39 basis points, to 4.18%. Net interest income rose by 8.3%. The loss provision was down 59%.

Declines in ROA, ROE

Fueled by a 26% leap in data processing income, Fifth Third boosted total fee revenues by 5.1% from a year ago. Operating expenses rose by 6.9%, the company said, largely because of rising personnel expenses.

First Financial said its return on assets fell 37 basis points from a year ago, while its return on equity fell by 9.79 percentage points, to 11.73%.

However, the thrift holding company said core operations were healthy and would fuel a rebound in the second half.

As promised, First Financial took a $6 million after-tax charge on a portfolio of mortgage-backed securities whose credit ratings recently were cut by Standard & Poor's Corp.

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