United Community Banks (UCBI) in Blairsville, Ga., reported a profit of $8.5 million in the first quarter as lower expenses and 31% jump in fee-based revenues from the prior year more than offset slightly weakening asset quality.

The $7.2 billion-asset United lost more than $240 million in last year's first quarter.

Total loans were down 1.6% from a year earlier, to $4.1 billion, but were up 2% from the prior quarter. Chief Executive Jimmy Tallent noted in a news release that it marked the third consecutive quarter of increased loan balances.

Interest income was down slightly year over year, but on a net basis interest income rose 4% due to lower deposit costs.

Fee income was aided by a surge in mortgage lending, which led to a 40% increase in mortgage-related fees, as well increased debit card income and service charges on deposit accounts. Also, its operating expenses fell 14% year over year due to largely to reduced deposit insurance.

Nonperforming assets ticked up 17% year over year, to $161.6 million, which the company attributed to a "typical" slowdown in sales of foreclosed properties during the winter months.

"We expect our overall credit trends to improve during 2012, although not necessarily on a straight line," Tallent said.

United's shares were up a nickel midday Thursday, to $9.30.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.