Profits at SVB Financial Group in Santa Clara, Calif., soared in the fourth quarter on strong loan growth.

The $44.6 billion-asset company reported a 50.8% increase in earnings from a year earlier, to $87.5 million. Its $1.68 per share was 16 cents higher than the estimates by analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Net interest income, after a provision for loan losses, rose 22.3% to $237.8 million even though net interest margin fell 12 basis points to 2.54%.Total loans grew 16.3%, to $16.9 billion, thanks primarily to increases in commercial segments such as life sciences and venture capital.

Noninterest income dropped 31.6% to $114.5 million, largely due to an accounting change tied to income from investment securities and smaller gains on derivatives instruments.

Noninterest expense rose 12% to $208.6 million on employee salaries and benefits, incentive compensation plans and the employee stock ownership plan.

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