First Fidelity Bancorp. earned $115 million in the third quarter, 13.3% more than the $101.5 million net income of the year-earlier quarter.

Quarterly earnings per share jumped from $1.15 to $1.30.

The Lawrenceville, N.J.-based bank said Friday that earnings were right in line with Wall Street expectations.

"The story in the quarter was loan growth," said Morgan Stanley's Dennis Shea. Even though loan volumes grew less 1% year to year, loans picked up dramatically between the second quarter and the third.

Third-quarter loans totaled $21.6 billion, a 1.5% jump from the $21.3 billion in the second quarter.

On an annualized basis loans grew 6% -- "better than I expected," said Keefe Bruyette & Woods' Mary Quinn.

Earnings were spurred on by other factors, including a 1.6% jump in net interest income from $354 million a year ago to $360 million this year.

The bank also showed improvement in asset quality. Nonperforming loans declined by $98 million, or 25%, from $381 million a year ago to $283 million this year.

Nonperforming assets dropped 17.7%, from $457 million in last year's third quarter to $376 million this year.

The ratio of nonperforming loans to loans was 1.26%, down from 1.88% a year ago. The ratio of nonperforming assets to total loans plus other real estate owned was 1.68%, down from 2.51% a year ago.

The bank also cut expenses despite increased marketing efforts, which analysts said gave a slight boost to earnings.

The third quarter's noninterest expense of $264 million was pared down 0.7% from $266 million.

[Tabular Data Omitted]

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