Commerce Bancshares Inc. in Kansas City, Mo., said Tuesday that fourth-quarter earnings were flat with a year earlier, at $43.8 million, or 58 cents a share, as net interest income improved and credit quality deteriorated.

For the year the company's earnings fell nearly 9%, to $188.7 million. Earnings per share fell nearly 8%, to $2.48.

The $17.5 billion-asset company said its net interest income rose 14% in the fourth quarter, to $156 million. In a news release, David W. Kemper, Commerce's chairman and chief executive, attributed the increase to lower funding costs and growth in earning assets.

Those gains, however, were offset by a 195% higher loan-loss provision of $41.3 million for the quarter. The yearend provision was $108.9 million, up 155% from a year earlier.

Nonperforming assets totaled $79.1 million at Dec. 31, up 139% from a year earlier.

Mr. Kemper said the increase in nonperformers resulted mainly from placing one large residential construction loan on nonaccrual status. But, he said, "we expect continuing weak economic conditions and deteriorating credit in 2009."

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