Lakeland Financial (LKFN) in Warsaw, Ind., reported higher quarterly profit driven by loan growth.

The $3.1 billion-asset company's fourth-quarter net income rose 23% from a year earlier, to $10.6 million. At 63 cents a share, the results beat the average estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg by 2 cents.

Total loans increased 6% from a year earlier and average loans rose 11% from a year earlier.

"In the fourth quarter, we grew our loan portfolio by $142 million... versus the third quarter," Lakeland President and Chief Financial Officer David Findlay said in a press release Monday. "We believe that this lending growth is reflective of the strengthening regional economy and of our further market share expansion. We are clearly focused on growing our balance sheet through lending more money in our northern and central Indiana markets."

Net interest income rose 16% from a year earlier, to $24.3 million. The net interest margin widened by 23 basis points from the fourth quarter of 2012, to 3.33%, because of declining funding costs, including deposit rates.

Noninterest income increased 8% from a year earlier, to $7.9 million. Noninterest expense rose 14% from a year earlier, to $16.5 million, because of increased salaries and employee benefits.

For the fourth straight quarter Lakeland did not add to its loan-loss allowance. Net charge-offs fell 41% from a year earlier, to $1 million.

For the year, Lakeland's earnings rose 10% compared to 2012, to $38.8 million.

In September, Lakeland said Findlay would succeed Michael Kubacki as CEO in April after the company's annual meeting. Kubacki will remain chairman.

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