Provident Financial Services (PFS) of Iselin, N.J., said Friday that it earned $17.4 million in the fourth quarter, up 4.2% from the same quarter a year prior, due largely to improved asset quality.

With earnings per share of 30 cents, the $7.5 billion-asset company missed estimates of analysts polled by Bloomberg by less than a cent.

Provident said that its nonperforming loans declined by nearly 23% year over year, to $76.7 million, and foreclosed assets fell 56%, to $5.5 million. The decline in problem loans allowed Provident to shrink its loan-loss provision by 55% from a year earlier, to $1.8 million.

Net interest income for the fourth quarter increased less than 1% from a year earlier, to $54.7 million, as the net interest margin compressed slightly, to 3.26%.

Noninterest income was $9.8 million for the quarter, a decrease of 16.3% from the same period in 2012. Noninterest expense increased slightly to $37.5 million.

A month ago, Provident agreed to buy the $949 million-asset Team Capital Bank of Bethlehem, Pa., for $122 million in cash and stock.

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