Minneapolis-based First Bank System on Wednesday said third-quarter earnings rose 18.7%; to $108.1 million, while Chicago-based St. Paul Bancorp said its earnings slumped 1-9%, to $9 million.

The $26.3 billion-asset First Bank tweaked performance virtually across the board, posting front-running profitability.

However, St. Paul, a $4 billion-asset thrift, is still mired in the aftermath. of massive mortgage.

First Bank said annualized returns equaled 19,4% on average common equity, up a hearty 260 basis points from the year before, and 1.66% on average assets, up 25 basis points. Anthony Davis, a banking analyst at Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., said First Bank had turned in an outstanding performance.

Year over year comparisons were affected by the cash buyout of Chicago-based Boulevard Bancorp in March. Average loans grew only 2.7%, but repricing of prime-based credits and retail loan growth increased loan yield 58 basis points, to 8.36%. The net interest margin rose 27 basis points, to 5.33%, and net interest income rose 7.1%, to $310.1 million.

Surging credit card fee revenue helped spark a 12.3% increase in noninterest income, to $159.4 million. That total includes a $2.8 million net loss on sales of Treasury securities. Acquisitions and an increase in retirement benefit outlays lifted noninterest expense 4.4%, to $266.9 million.

First Bank's ratio. of operating expenses to operating revenues was 56.5%, down from 59.2% the year before.

The superregional said it had completed the purchase of J.P. Morgan & Co.'s domestic corporate mast unit Sept. 2. First Bank said it expects to complete the purchase of $8 billion-asset Metropolitan Financial Corp. in 1995's first quarter.

St. Paul said its annualized returns equaled 0.9% on average assets, down 217 basis points, and 10.7% on average equity, down 273 basis points.

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