First Niagara Financial Group (FNFG) in Buffalo, N.Y., met quarterly estimates and announced a plan to invest heavily in technological improvements as it moves beyond its recent phase of rapid growth.
The $37.6 billion-asset company reported a profit of $70.1 million in the fourth quarter, up 31% from the same period in 2012, it said Friday. Per-share earnings of 20 cents matched the average estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg.
First Niagara's net revenue increased 7%, to $369.6 million, thanks to stronger yields and a growing loan book. Its net interest income rose 11%, to $280.3 million, as net interest margin widened by 19 basis points, to 3.41%. The company's provision for loan losses was $32 million, a $10 million increase.
In addition, Gary Crosby, newly installed as First Niagara's permanent CEO, announced plans to invest $200 million to $250 million over the next several years to improve the company's technology infrastructure. The new initiative is intended to allow First Niagara to roll out new offerings more efficiently and cheaply, which would reduce the company's long-term integration costs and help it adapt to the growing regulatory scrutiny of banks' internal processes, Crosby told investors on an earnings conference call.
While loan revenue remained strong, First Niagara's fee-generation lagged in the fourth quarter. Noninterest income dipped by 3%, to $89.3 million, because of a 66% drop-off in mortgage banking revenue, to $2.8 million.
First Niagara's noninterest expense fell 5%, to $227.1 million, as costs related to marketing, advertising and mergers dropped.