First Financial Bancorp (FFBC) announced plans to trim its expense base by $17.1 million over the next year.

The Cincinnati company said Thursday that it had identified the savings after completing an efficiency study during the third quarter. The unspecified cuts would go beyond an already announced plan to cut $3 million from branch closings.

First Financial said that it would implement the efficiency effort this quarter but the savings will not trickle down to the bottom line this year because of one-time costs associated with the effort.

"Our expectation is that all initiatives will be in place by the end of the second quarter [of] 2013 with actual savings realization following closely behind," Claude Davis, the $6.2 billion-asset company's president and chief executive, said in a press release. "Executing an efficient operating model is a strategic priority for First Financial."

The planned cuts were announced as part of First Financial's third-quarter results. The company's earnings rose 4% from a year earlier, to $16.2 million, as a lower loan-loss provision and a securities sale offset lower net interest income.

Net interest income fell 8% from a year earlier, to $59.8 million. The net interest margin compressed by 28 basis points from the second quarter and 34 basis points from a year earlier, to 4.21%. First Financial said the margin shrinkage reflected a decrease in loans covered by its loss-share agreements with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The company said it expects the margin to shrink by 8 basis points to 15 basis points this quarter.

The provision on loans not covered by loss-sharing agreements fell 53% from a year earlier, to $3.6 million. Nonperforming assets fell 10% from the second quarter but were relatively flat from a year earlier, at $87.9 million.

Noninterest income rose 9.7% from a year earlier, to $30.8 million, reflecting $2.6 million of gains from the sale of securities.

First Financial decided last year that it would pay out all of its earnings to shareholders through dividends until it could find a better way to deploy capital. The company said it would continue that effort, with plans to pay investors a total dividend of 28 cents a share on Jan. 2. Meanwhile, the company also said that its board had authorized it to repurchase up five million shares of its common stock. It plans to repurchase one million shares annually starting this quarter.

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