NEW CASTLE, Pa. - First Western Bancorp earned $3.9 million in the first quarter, but earnings increased less than 1% from the year-earlier period.

Earnings grew because of an increase in net interest income, a reduction in the provision for possible loan losses and lower taxes. But the increase was tempered by reduced securities gains and higher expenses.

First Western's assets grew to $1.5 billion, up 14% from the prior quarter. And deposits were up 21%, to $1.1 million in the quarter.

The company's net interest margin declined to 3.95% in the quarter, from 4.20% a year earlier. First Western expects continued margin shrinkage in the near term as customers invest in higher-yielding deposit instruments.

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