Fulton Financial (FULT) in Lancaster, Pa., reported a nearly 5% increase in fourth-quarter earnings, capping a year of loan growth and credit quality improvements.

"Overall asset quality improved significantly as seen in our lower provision for credit losses and lower nonperforming loan levels year over year," Fulton Financial Chief Executive E. Philip Wenger said in summing up the company's 2013 performance. "We continued to prudently deploy capital through our share repurchases and cash dividends to our shareholders. Fourth-quarter financial performance was solid," he said in a news release Tuesday.

Fulton reported net income of $42.1 million for the fourth quarter, up 4.6% from a year earlier. Earnings per share were 22 cents, beating estimates of analysts polled by Bloomberg by more than two cents per share.

Average loans were $12.6 billion at yearend, up 5.1% from a year earlier but just 0.5% higher than at Sept. 30.

Provision for credit losses was $2.5 million for the quarter, an 85.7% decrease from $17.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. Annualized net chargeoffs were 0.33% of average total loans, compared to 0.91% for the quarter ending Dec. 31, 2012.

Net interest income for the fourth quarter rose 0.6% from a year earlier, to $133 million.

Total noninterest income plummeted 31.6%, to $40.7 million. Total noninterest expense rose 0.2% to $116.8 million.

Net interest margin fell by 17 basis points compared to the fourth quarter of 2012, to 3.48%.

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