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BancorpSouth rebounds further into the black

A balance sheet that saw a significant decline in provision for credit losses helped Tupelo-based regional bank BancorpSouth achieve fourth quarter net income of $15.8 million, or $0.19 per diluted share, beating the analysts’ consensus estimate by 2 cents.

Shareholders, however, saw their dividend chopped in half, going from 22 cents in the third quarter to 11 cents.

This marked the second consecutive quarter of earnings improvement over the prior quarter as well as the bank’s best quarterly earnings performance for 2010.

In the same quarter of 2009, BancorpSouth had a net loss of $2.1 million, or 3cents a share. The $13.6 billion regional bank company operates in eight states and is the largest bank with headquarters in Mississippi

The lending side has been BancorpSouth’s biggest challenge and had caused it to see several quarters of losses before a turnaround that began in the third quarter of 2010.

Improvement continued in the fourth quarter.  “We experienced a 3.7 percent decline in non-performing loans, 30-89 day past due loans continued to decline, and we saw a decline in the provision for credit losses as required reserves for impaired loans declined and levels of adversely classified loans decreased,” said CEO Aubrey Patterson in a press statement.

“After seven consecutive quarters of increase in non-performing loans, we’re encouraged with slowing NPLs over the past quarter,” Patterson noted in Jan. 28 earnings conference with analysts.

Patterson attributed the quarter’s movement to a 30.5 percent decline in the provision for credit losses. The provision dropped to $43.3 million for the fourth quarter from $62.3 million for the fourth quarter of 2009.

In addition, non-interest revenue increased $9.5 million, or 14.7 percent, for the fourth quarter of 2010 from the same quarter of 2009, the bank said.

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