MB Financial Inc.'s fourth-quarter results fell shy of Wall Street's expectations, but things are still looking up for the Chicago company.

The $9.8 billion-asset company said late Thursday that its quarterly earnings fell 1.7% from a quarter earlier, to $16.8 million. A year earlier, MB Financial earned $595,000.

The company reported earnings of 36 cents per share. Brad Milsaps, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, pegged the company's core earnings at 31 cents a share, after backing out $400,000 in securities gains and a $600,000 branch impairment charge. The analysts' consensus was 33 cents.

Milsaps wrote in a research note Friday that despite the miss, the company's underlying trends are positive.

The company's nonperforming assets fell nearly 9% from a quarter earlier, to $208 million at Dec. 31. A year earlier, it had $434 million of nonperforming assets, but MB Financial undertook a large bulk sale in the second quarter.

The company's loan-loss provision fell 30% from a quarter earlier, to $8 million. A year earlier, the provision was $49 million. Additionally, its provision was $5.9 million lower than net chargeoffs.

MB Financial was one of the most-active failed bank acquirers in 2009 and 2010, but was noticeably absent from the buyer's list last year. Several analysts have speculated the break was caused by both the need to digest the six banks it bought from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and deal with its own legacy credit issues.

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