First Bancorp (FBNC) in Southern Pines, N.C., saw its earnings nearly double in the first quarter from a year earlier behind higher net interest margin, lower provision for loan losses and higher fee income.

The $3.3 billion-asset company reported net income of $5.5 million during the quarter, compared to $2.9 million a year ago.

Net interest income was up 11.3% from the same quarter last year, to $35.5 million. First Bancorp's net interest margin was up 44 basis points on a yearly basis, to 5.13%, due to larger amounts of discount accretion on loans purchased in failed bank acquisitions.

The provision for loan losses was three times lower than a year ago, at $3.6 million, because of improved asset quality and low levels of net chargeoffs.

Core noninterest income increased 15.5% for the comparable period last year, to $7.5 million, as a result of higher service charges on deposits recorded for customers who maintain low account balances.

First Bancorp's noninterest expenses were virtually the same from a year ago at $23.6 million. Salary expenses were elevated, but this increase was offset by lower expenses related to collections on foreclosed properties.

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