First Niagara Financial Group Inc. in Buffalo reported a 58.8% increase in fourth-quarter net income Thursday.

The $21 billion-asset company said its profit rose by $17 million from a year earlier, to $45.9 million, or 22 cents a share. It also announced it was boosting its quarterly dividend by 7%, or one cent, to 16 cents a share.

Loan growth in its new markets continues to exceed expectations, the company said. Fourth-quarter loan originations doubled in western Pennsylvania from a year earlier and grew 34% in eastern Pennsylvania from the second quarter, when the company bought Harleysville National Corp.

The company is also in the process of buying NewAlliance Bancshares Inc. in New Haven, Conn.

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