Westamerica Bancorp. in San Rafael, Calif., reported fourth-quarter earnings of $21.8 million, down 8% from a year earlier.

Earnings per share dipped 5%, to 77 cents, three cents shy of consensus analysts' estimates, according to Thomson Reuters.

In a news release Thursday, the company blamed the results primarily on the low interest rate environment. The company's interest income was $55.2 million, down 7.2% from a year earlier, and interest expense was down nearly 40% to $1.8 million. Net interest income was $53.3 million, down 5.4%.

Westamerica's net interest margin was 5.24% annualized, down 15 basis points from a year earlier.

"To offset the effect of declining asset yields, we continue focusing on building checking and savings deposits to reduce our interest cost which was 0.18% in the fourth quarter 2011, down from 0.29% in the fourth quarter 2010," David Payne, the chairman, president and chief executive of the $4.9 billion-asset company, said in a press release on Thursday.

The company's provision for loan losses was $2.8 million, flat from a year earlier and the prior quarter. Nonperforming assets were $101 million, down 30% from a year earlier. A third of those nonperforming assets are covered by a loss-share agreement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. stemming from its acquisitions failed banks in 2009 and 2010.

At midday Thursday Westamerica's shares were down 3% from Wednesday's close, to $45.98

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