Though its credit quality weakened, First Financial Holdings Inc. in Charleston, S.C., said Friday that earnings for its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended Sept. 30, increased 21.5% from a year earlier, to $6.3 million.

The $3 billion-asset company also said it has filed a shelf registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission to raise up to $135 million of capital by selling common or preferred stock, trust-preferred securities, or other instruments "from time to time."

The filing should enable First Financial to act quickly on opportunities to expand, A. Thomas Hood, its president and chief executive officer, said in a press release.

It also might participate in the Treasury Department's Capital Purchase Program, Mr. Hood said. First Financial's provision for loan losses rose 173% from a year earlier and 6% from the previous quarter, to $5.2 million. It attributed the increase to higher delinquencies and nonperforming loans and an assessment of economic conditions.

"Consumers in our markets are experiencing higher unemployment, lower home values, and increased living expenses," Mr. Hood said.

Problem loans and chargeoffs remain low compared with industry averages, he said. Problem assets, which include nonaccrual loans, accruing loans that are more than 90 days past due, and real estate owned, jumped 237% from a year earlier and 24% from the previous quarter, to $20.6 million, or 0.84% of total assets.

First Financial recorded a $486,000 loss on an investment considered other than temporarily impaired. It did not identify the investment, but it said it had no exposure to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock.

Net interest income rose 17% from a year earlier but only 0.6% from the previous quarter, to $24.2 million.

Mr. Hood said "significant pricing pressure" is squeezing the net interest margin, which rose 17 basis points from a year earlier but fell 8 basis points from the previous quarter, to 3.56%.

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