First Financial reports increase in net income

First Financial Bancorp has reported its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2017 and for the full year.

For the three months ending Dec. 31, the company reported net income of $24.8 million or 40 cents per diluted common share, compared to $23.3 million, or 38 cents per diluted common share for the fourth quarter of 2016.

Return on average assets for the fourth quarter of 2017 was 1.13 percent, while return on average tangible common equity was 13.85 percent, the company said. That compares to a return on average assets of 1.11 percent and a return on average tangible common equity of 14.19 percent reported in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Claude Davis, chief executive officer, said strong earnings, improved net interest margin, continued credit improvement and stable loan growth combined to produce fourth quarter adjusted earnings of 45 cents per share, representing the company’s 109th consecutive quarter of profitability.

The increase in net interest margin was driven by a combination of higher loan fees, improved earning asset mix and lower funding costs resulting from deposit strategies implemented during the third quarter, he said.

Fourth quarter results were affected by the recently enacted tax reform legislation, the preliminary agreement to early terminate the company’s FDIC-loss sharing agreements and the realization of a significant historic tax credit, Davis said. The company made a $3 million charitable contribution to the newly established First Financial Foundation during the period and will continue to make steady progress in integration efforts and the anticipated merger with MainSource Financial Group, Davis said.

For the 12 months ending on Dec. 31, First Financial reported earnings per diluted common share of $1.56 compared to $1.43 for the same period in 2016.

Afterward, the First Financial board announced a 19-cent dividend, an increase from 17 cents, payable March 15 to shareholders as of March 1.

Cincinnati-based First Financial Bancorp had $8.9 billion in assets, $6 billion in loans, $6.9 billion in deposits and $930.7 million in shareholder equity as of Dec. 31. The company’s subsidiary, First Financial Bank, was founded in 1863. The company’s primary operating markets are in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky where it operates 94 banking centers, including four in Columbus.