PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (PNC) posted fourth-quarter profit that beat analysts' estimates as the lender set aside less money for soured loans.

Net income rose 53% to $1.1 billion, or $1.85 a share, from $719 million, or $1.24, a year earlier, the Pittsburgh bank said Thursday. The average estimate of 30 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg was $1.64 a share, adjusted for one-time items. For the full year, profit increased 41% to $4.2 billion.

Chief Executive Officer Bill Demchak has focused on cutting expenses, boosting fee revenue and increasing market share in the U.S. Southeast after PNC's 2012 acquisition of RBC Bank USA. As a result, the lender is well-positioned to return more capital to shareholders this year, Demchak said in October.

"We remain positively biased to the stock given the company's progress in integrating the RBC deal and indications that expense control will be a priority," Moshe Orenbuch, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG, said in a Jan. 8 research note. "PNC has some levers to pull in terms of earnings growth, including expense declines and share buyback."

PNC rose 1.1% to close Wednesday at $78.84 in New York. The shares have gained 32% in the past year, outpacing the 29% advance of the 81-company Standard & Poor's 500 Financials Index.

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