ATLANTA -- Wider net interest margins, lower loan-loss provisions, and improved non-interest income helped banks in the Southeast chalk up their best first-quarter profits in three years.

Allied with this trend are indications of an economic recovery tentatively blooming in the Southeast. "There are signs of strength in the banks, and you often see that at a time when recovery is starting," said John W. Spiegel, chief financial officer at Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks Inc.

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