Quarterly profit fell at Westamerica Bancorp. (WABC) in San Rafael, Calif., as interest and fee income declined.

The $4.9 billion-asset company said Tuesday that it earned $17.3 million in the first quarter, a decline of 18% from the year-prior period. Earnings per share of 64 cents matched the expectations of analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Net interest income was $43.8 million, down 15% from a year earlier, due to lower loan yields and volumes. Net interest margin declined to 4.27% from 5.12%. Provision for loan losses was unchanged, at $2.8 million.

Westamerica's noninterest income fell 3%, to $14.3 million, as service charges on deposits and ATM processing fees fell.

Westamerica's efforts to control costs partially made up for declining income. Noninterest expense fell 3%, to $28.7 million, because of lower personnel costs, loan-administration expenses and professional fees, the company said.

"Westamerica continues to deliver relatively high levels of profitability in a difficult operating environment," Westamerica Chairman and Chief Executive David Payne said in the news release. "We are focused on controlling costs while banking industry revenues are pressured by low interest rates and aggressive competition."

Payne has complained that some rivals, especially community banks, have been very aggressive in lowering prices and easing underwriting standards to win loan business, especially in commercial real estate.

"I thought we were going to have a nice breather after the economic crisis and that we'd see some firming up of spreads and margins and improving long-term earnings prospects," Payne said in February at an investor conference in Boston hosted by Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. "Unfortunately, we've gotten back into our aggressive pricing tactics."

Westamerica had largely stopped making commercial loans to avoid the undue risk of matching the risky moves of competitors, he said at the time.

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