Hancock Holding (HBHC) in Gulfport, Miss., missed earnings estimates in the fourth quarter as the company took $17.1 million in charges related to cost-cutting measures.

The company earned $34.7 million, a 26% decrease from the same period in 2012. Earnings per share of 41 cents were 15 cents lower than the estimates of analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Noninterest expense climbed 10%, to $174.2 million, primarily because of $17.1 million in one-time costs related to Hancock's expense and efficiency initiative. Hancock announced in May 2013 that it would close or sell roughly one-fifth of its branch network in order to rein in expenses. It closed 26 branches on Aug. 30.

In the fourth quarter, Hancock sold seven Houston-area branches and closed two additional branches. The company also sold three Louisiana branches on Jan. 10.

Hancock's net interest income fell 8%, to $168.5 million. While total loans grew 6%, to $12.3 billion, income from short-term investments and time deposits fell. Its net interest margin was 4.09%, down 39 points from the same period a year ago.

Noninterest income totaled $59 million, an 8% decrease from the same period in 2012. The decline was largely driven by a falloff in revenue from secondary mortgage market operations.

Improved asset quality allowed Hancock to chop its loan-loss provision by 74%, to $7.3 million. Net chargeoffs on non-covered loans plunged 81%, to $5.2 million.

The $19 billion-asset Hancock announced in November plans to merge its Hancock Bank and Whitney Bank subsidiaries into a single charter. Hancock acquired Whitney for $1.5 billion in 2011. The two brands will remain separate after the charter consolidation, which is expected to close in the first quarter.

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