Crediting loan growth, Buffalo-based First Empire State Corp. said Tuesday that earnings rose 15% last year to $117.3 million, or $15.71 per share, from $102 million, or $13.42 a share, in 1993.

The $10.5 billion-asset bank's fourth-quarter earnings increased 17% to $31.9 million, or $4.35 per share, from $26.6 million, or $3.50 per share, in 1993's fourth quarter.

Earnings were fueled by a change in the bank's asset mix, an expected trend in the industry now that loan growth has picked up, said analyst Stephen Paluszek of M.A. Schapiro & Co. in New York.

"Booking loans replaces holding securities; this is a natural transition. It is clearly reflected in this institution," he said.

Assets in First Empire's securities portfolio dropped 26%, to $1.8 billion from $2.4 billion, Mr. Paluszek said. Money market assets declined 98%, to $9 million from $394 million, he said.

The bank's loan portfolio grew 13%, to $8.2 billion, from $7.3 billion a year ago.

Earnings for the year came in 31 cents a share above consensus expectations on Wall Street, according to SNL Securities. The consensus was the bank would earn $15.40.

First Empire's profit surge was partially attributable to tax benefits accrued from the transfer of $15.7 million worth of securities to fund a charitable foundation run by the bank.

The bank also reduced its loan-loss provision to $60.5 million at yearend 1994, from $80 million a year ago. "They're still providing more for loan losses than they need to be," said Kevin Timmons, an analyst with First Albany Corp.

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