By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Investment Weekly News -- First Financial Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ: SCBT) released its unaudited results of operations and other financial information for the three-month period ended March 31, 2014. Highlights of the first quarter 2014 include the following: Net income available to common shareholders of $15.8 million, or $0.66 diluted EPS in 1Q 2014, up 20.3%, compared to $13.2 million, or $0.55 diluted EPS in 4Q 2013, and up 48.8% from $10.6 million, or $0.63 diluted EPS in 1Q 2013; Operating earnings of $19.8 million, which exclude merger and branding expenses and include preferred stock dividends, or $0.82 diluted EPS in 1Q 2014, up 2.4%, compared to $19.3 million, or $0.80 diluted EPS in 4Q 2013, and up 65.2% from $12.0 million, or $0.71 diluted EPS in 1Q 2013; Return on average assets was 0.86% annualized in 1Q 2014 compared to 0.70% in 4Q 2013 and 0.84% in 1Q 2013; Operating return on average assets was 1.06% annualized in 1Q 2014 compared to 1.00% in 4Q 2013 and 0.95% in 1Q 2013; Return on average common tangible equity was 12.6% annualized in 1Q 2014 compared to 10.9% in 4Q 2013, and 11.9% in 1Q 2013; Operating return on average tangible common equity was 15.5% in 1Q 2014 compared to 15.5% in 4Q 2013 and 13.3% in 1Q 2013; Tangible common equity per share annualized percentage change increased by 14.5% during the first quarter of 2014; Redeemed all $65.0 million of Series A preferred stock on March 28, 2014; Net charge-offs of non-acquired loans decreased to 0.05% annualized in 1Q 2014, compared to 0.26% annualized in 4Q 2013 and 0.56% annualized in 1Q 2013; Operating efficiency ratio decreased to 64.1% in 1Q2014, compared to 66.3% in 4Q2013 and 64.5% in 1Q2013; Legacy loan growth for 1Q 2014 was $114.7 million or 16.0% annualized; and Core deposit growth, excluding CDs, up $146.5 million or 11.7% annualized in 1Q 2014. Quarterly Cash Dividend The Board of Directors of First Financial Holdings, Inc. has declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.20 per share payable on its common stock. This per share amount is $0.01 per share, or 5.3% higher than the dividend paid in the immediately preceding quarter and is $0.02 per share, or 11.1%, higher than a year ago. The dividend will be payable on May 23, 2014 to shareholders of record as of May 16, 2014. First Quarter 2014 Financial Performance Please refer to the accompanying tables for detailed comparative data on results of operations and financial results. The Company reported consolidated net income available to common shareholders of $15.8 million, or $0.66 per diluted common share for the three months ended March 31, 2014 up from $13.2 million, or $0.55 per diluted common share for the three months ended December 31, 2013. This $2.6 million increase was primarily the result of a reduction in merger and branding expenses and salaries and employee benefits; partially offset by an increase in the provision for loan losses, an increase in the effective tax rate to 34.3% from 34.0%, and a decrease in net interest income.
"We are off to a very solid start in 2014, and our company is continuing to build earnings momentum," said Robert R. Hill, Jr., CEO of First Financial Holdings, Inc. "The first quarter was highlighted by low credit costs, improved asset quality and expense management, accompanied by strong organic growth in loans and core deposits. These improvements led to record operating earnings of $19.8 million. Our First Federal merger efficiencies helped drive a reduction in expenses of $6.5 million compared to the fourth quarter of 2013. Expenses were reduced or flat in every category with the exception of regulatory charges. Organic loan growth was also strong at 16% annualized and core deposit growth was 11.7%. I am pleased with the quantity and quality of the banking relationships we have had the opportunity to build. These quarterly results have enhanced the returns to our shareholders with an operating return on tangible common equity of 15.5%; a 14.5% annualized increase in tangible book value per common share, and an increase in our cash dividend." Asset Quality During the first quarter of 2014, SCBT continued to experience improvement in asset quality, excluding acquired loans and acquired other real estate owned (OREO), as nonperforming loans declined by $4.8 million, or 11.4%. Non-acquired nonperforming assets (NPAs) as a percentage of total non-acquired loans and repossessed assets declined to 1.66% compared to 1.94% in the fourth quarter of 2013. NPAs, excluding acquired NPAs, declined by $6.1 million from the fourth quarter 2013 level.
At March 31, 2014, the allowance for non-acquired loan losses was $34.7 million or 1.16% of non-acquired period-end loans. The current allowance for loan losses provides 0.93 times coverage of period-end non-acquired nonperforming loans, up from 0.81 times at the end of the fourth quarter of 2013. Net charge-offs within the non-acquired portfolio were $332,000 for the quarter or 0.05% annualized, down from the fourth quarter of 2013 of $1.8 million or 0.26% annualized and down from the first quarter of 2013 of $3.6 million or 0.56% annualized.
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