Valley National Bancorp announced Thursday that it is slowing de novo branch expansion in New Jersey and New York as it sees the opportunity to expand through acquisition.

The Wayne, N.J., company announced the shift in focus as it reported earnings of $32.1 million in the fourth quarter, up 90% from a year earlier. For 2009, the $14.3 billion-asset company reported net income of $116.1 million, up 24% from 2008.

The huge increase in fourth-quarter earnings was caused by the comparison to a 2008 period in which the company wrote down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac preferred stock, as well as impaired securities.

Valley National's credit costs remained relatively stable, with a loan-loss provision totaling $12.25 million, up 5% from a year earlier, though down 3.7% from the third quarter. The company reported nonperforming assets of $98 million, up 117% from a year earlier.

Despite the sharp increase, nonperforming assets comprised less than 1% of total assets.

The company completed its exit from the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program in December by repaying the remaining $100 million of a $300 million investment it had received. The company also raised $64 million of common equity in December.

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