First National Bank of Keystone, W. Va., is on pace to earn this year what banks at least 15 times its size might make.

The $300 million-asset bank, located in the depressed coal fields in the southern part of the state, earned $8 million in net income for the first quarter, nearly one and a half times as much as in the year-earlier period.

"We're very excited here," said J. Knox McConnell, president of First National. "I'm shooting for $50 million (in 1995), but somewhere around $40 million is probably more realistic."

Earning the more realistic figure would follow a pattern established over the past four years, when First National more than doubled its income each year. Last year it made $20 million, compared with $1.8 million in 1992.

Such sensational increases are not uncharted ground for First National. American Banker named the bank the most profitable in the country in 1995 - with an 81.35% return on equity, a figure nearly five times the average ROE of a profitable bank.

First National also had the highest average return on assets over the past three years, 5.63%, about four times the industry norm.

About two-thirds of First National's profits are fueled by its secondary mortgage business. The bank's 18-employee subsidiary has bought loans in more than 32 states. It securitizes the loans and then sells them on the secondary market at a large profit.

Home loans to about 900 physicians in Pittsburgh help maintain the bank's pristine loan quality. About 60% of the bank's stock is owned by its 40 employees. Mr. McConnell holds about 28% of it, worth about $6 million.

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