Zions Bancorp. in Salt Lake City posted a big increase in quarterly earnings despite increasing its loan-loss provision to account for energy-related exposure.

The $59.7 billion-asset company said in a press release Monday that its fourth-quarter profit rose 32% from a year earlier to $88.2 million, or 43 cents a share.

Zions merged its seven subsidiary banks to a single national bank charter Dec. 31.

Net interest income rose 4.3% to $448.8 million. Loans increased by 1.5% to $40 billion, while the net interest margin compressed by 2 basis points to 3.23%. The company's provision nearly doubled to $22.7 million.

Noninterest income fell 4.2% to $124 million because of a large decline in dividends and other investment income.

Noninterest expense fell 4.7% to $402.8 million because of lower salaries and employee benefits, other real estate expense and a 50% decline in professional and legal fees. The efficiency ratio was 69.8%, an improvement from the 74.1% a year earlier.

"We are pleased with the relatively limited energy net chargeoffs during the quarter, and the relatively strong pay-downs and payoffs of energy-related loans in the quarter," Harris Simmons, Zions' chairman and chief executive, said in the release.

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