To describe the third quarter for community institutions in the Southeast, many observers used the same word: boring.

"It was sort of a good old basic-business type of quarter," said Alex Hart, equity analyst with Ferris, Baker Watts Inc. in Baltimore. "There was nothing really outstanding on either end."

Mr. Hart said many small banks and thrifts in the region are reporting the same thing - solid loan demand, tough deposit competition, but sustained margins.

George Mason Bankshares, for example, reported a 6% earnings rise to $1.38 million. The $549 million-asset company, based in Fairfax, Va., attributed the modest improvement to a 14% increase in noninterest income.

Earning assets at the bank jumped by about $100 million in the last year and will increase further after the bank completes last week's announced deal to acquire Washington, D.C.-based Palmer National Bank, the bank said.

The moderate performance at George Mason was typical of what occurred at many banks in the region, analysts said. Many institutions reported earnings improvements in the high single-digit percentage range, compared with the widely disparate earnings of the first half, they said.

The reduction in Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. premiums - to 4 cents from 23 cents for every $100 of deposits - went into effect in the quarter but mostly had a negligible impact, bankers said.

Carolina First Corp. of Greenville, S.C.; First Charter Corp. of Concord, N.C., and F&M National Corp. of Winchester, Va., all reported earnings increases in the 7% to 11% range.

The $1.4 billion-asset Carolina First, the largest bank based in South Carolina, opened several new offices in the quarter, including three in supermarkets, which combined to offset earnings slightly.

However, there were some big winners and losers.

Mid-America Bancorp, a $1.2 billion-asset Louisville, Ky., bank, posted a $1.5 million loss for the quarter, primarily as a result of an unusually large $5.7 million increase in loan-loss provisions. A Louisville real estate development firm accounted for most of the problem loans, the bank said.

Mid-America had achieved earnings of $3 million in the year-earlier period.

Nonperformers as a percentage of total loans rose to 2.93% at Sept. 30, compared with just 0.50% at yearend, the bank reported.

On the other end of the spectrum WSFS Financial Corp. of Wilmington, Del., and Triangle Bancorp of Raleigh, N.C., achieved 37% and 27% jumps in earnings, respectively.

The $1.2 billion-asset WSFS, which is exploring a sale of the company, actually generated a sevenfold increase in earnings, if the one-time sale of deposits from one of its subsidiaries is included. Non-performing assets shrank nearly in half in the last nine months to $24 million, or 2% of total assets, the bank said.

The dynamic Triangle, which just moved into new headquarters, grew by 13% to about $725 million of assets, it reported.

Though several banks continued to make acquisitions or opened new branches in the quarter, the M&A scene was relatively quiet overall, observers said.

"There weren't a whole lot of deals in the quarter," said Samuel J. Beebe, bank analyst at William R. Hough & Co. in St. Petersburg, Fla. "The bigger banks that have traditionally bought out the banks in Florida are getting too big to buy that small again. Plus, they just have too much on their plates at the moment with all these megamergers."

Looking ahead, analysts said there's no reason to expect any changes in the next couple of quarters, but then the scenario could change.

"This bull market is a little long in the tooth," said Mr. Beebe. "There's a finite time before it bottlenecks and adjustments are made, probably sometime in 1996."

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