Westamerica Bancorporation (WABC) in San Rafael, Calif., said Tuesday that its first-quarter earnings fell 6.2%, to $21.8 million, from the same period in 2011 as the company intentionally curtailed its lending in response to persistently low interest rates and fierce competition for quality loans.

Total loans declined 14% year over year, to just under $2.5 billion, while commercial and industrial loans fell by nearly 27%, to $523 million. In a news release, the $5 billion-asset Westamerica said. "loan originations have been impacted by competitive loan pricing, which in management's opinion does not provide adequate forward earnings potential."

Westamerica maintained relatively strong earnings by keeping a lid on its expenses. Its interest expense declined by more than 32% year over year, which helped the company generate a robust net interest margin of 5.12%. Its noninterest expense fell 4.1%, to $30 million.

On a per-share basis, Westamerica's earnings fell 2.5% year over year, to 75 cents, in line with estimates of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

Westamerica's shares were trading at $47.72 midday Tuesday, up about 2.2% from Monday's closing price.

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