Fitch Ratings has affirmed its outlook for six community banks based on their stable and improving performance.

Fitch also maintained its ratings for Central Pacific Financial in Honolulu; Community Bank System in Syracuse, N.Y.; CVB Financial in Ontario, Calif.; First Commonwealth Financial in Indiana, Pa.; First Midwest Bancorp in Itasca, Ill.; and Trustmark in Jackson, Miss. The firm also revised its outlook for Independent Bank in Rockland, Mass., to "stable" from "negative."

The firm said that those banks typically implement conservative lending standards, and tend to operate in a limited number of markets, which makes them more vulnerable to geographic risk. Consequently, most of these banks' long-term issuer-default ratings, which measure the likelihood they will default on financial obligations, falls in the 'BBB' category.

Through the first half of this year, the average community bank return on assets was 0.9%, or 17 basis points below the average ROA for large regionals. Fitch said it expects community banks "will continue to face greater core earnings headwinds well into 2015."

Fitch also said it anticipates the group's earnings will continue to lag the large regional peer group as interest rates rise. Net interest income among the community bank group, on average, may increase by just over 2.71%, compared to 5.9% for large regional banks.

Fitch said that, as a group, the reviewed community banks "have homogenous business strategies" and noninterest income at less than 30% of total revenue, compared to more than 40% at larger banks, so they have "limited opportunity to improve fee-based income in the near term."

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