After a brief return to profitability in late 2009, Whitney Holding Corp. in New Orleans has reported another losing quarter.

The $11.5 billion-asset company said Tuesday that it lost $29 million in the third quarter, or 50 cents a share — 20 cents more than analysts had expected. It was the third straight quarter of growing losses for Whitney, which lost $18 million in the second quarter and $5.3 million in the first.

The loss was slightly narrower than a year earlier, when Whitney lost $30 million.

Yet the company insisted that the worst of its troubles are behind it.

"The issues and concerns that tempered our optimism last quarter — the Gulf oil spill, the independent third-party risk-rating review project and the weak economic recovery and threat of another downturn in the economy — have all eased or been addressed," Whitney's chief executive, John C. Hope 3rd, said in a press release.

The company also announced an aggressive plan Tuesday to manage credit issues by selling more than half its nonperforming assets, the bulk of which are in Florida.

Whitney has agreed to sell $180 million of nonperforming loans, and it plans to reclassify up to $100 million of additional nonperforming loans as held for sale.

The company said it expects to complete the sale and reclassification in the current quarter and said the moves should position it to return to consistent profitability in the first quarter.

Investors, however, may be skeptical of that claim until they see evidence of a slowing in problem loans, Kevin Fitzsimmons, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, wrote in a research note.

"Our first reaction was that this sort of transaction represents a positive development, as it implies [Whitney] is taking a more aggressive stance toward offloading its NPAs," Fitzsimmons wrote. "That said, we think investors may question how much this represents a true 'clearing of the decks,' as opposed to simply attempting to address the big [third-quarter] run-up in classified assets."

Whitney increased its classified loans by 27%, to $236 million, after hiring a risk-rating consultant to review its credit administration and review processes.

It also boosted its provision for loan losses by 18.6% from the second quarter, to $70 million, more than half of which was tied to the increase in classified loans.

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