Sterling Bancorp's fourth-quarter profit rose 51% from a year earlier, to 5.3 million, as loan volume and net interest income improved.

The $2.5 billion-asset company also said Tuesday that its 2011 profit of $15.5 million nearly quadrupled that of 2010. Sterling said that its earnings were helped by growth in loan volume, which led lead to a higher net interest income.

In the fourth quarter, the New York company recorded a roughly $1.9 million net tax benefit from the completion of Federal tax audits for 2002 through 2009. The company also wrote down about $600,000 of assets to realizable value.

Fourth-quarter net interest income rose 8% from a year earlier, to $21.9 million, because of higher average loan balances and reduced funding costs. Average loans in the fourth quarter climbed 9.5% from a year earlier, to $1.5 billion.

Sterling's fourth-quarter noninterest income fell 15% from a year earlier, to $10.3 million, largely reflecting a decline in residential mortgage banking income.

The fourth-quarter loan loss provision remained flat at $3 million year over year but fell 58%, to $12 million, for the year.

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