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First Niagara Post In-Line Profit

BUFFALO, N.Y. ( TheStreet) -- First Niagara Financial (MI) on Thursday reported fourth-quarter operating earnings of $31.3 million, or 17 cents a share, matching the consensus estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

In comparison, on the same basis, the thrift holding company earned $27.3 million, or 19 cents a share, in the third quarter, and $22.8 million or 20 cents a share in year-ago equivalent period.

For the full year 2009, operating earnings were $105.6 million or 72 cents a share, up from $89.8 million or 83 cents a share, in 2008.

On a GAAP generally accepted accounting principles basis, First Niagara's fourth-quarter net income was $28.9 million or 16 cents a share, compared to $10.9 million, or 7 cents a share ,in the third quarter and $21.6 million, or 19 cents a share, a year earlier. GAAP results in the latest period reflect the impact of $23 million in expenses related to the acquisition of 57 National City Branches from PNC Financial (PNC.) in Western Pennsylvania.

The earnings comparisons reflect the issuance of 78 million shares through three stock offerings during 2009 that raised close to $1 billion in common equity. First Niagara participated in the Troubled Assets Relief Program, receiving issuing preferred shares to the government in November 2008 to receive $184 million in capital, which the company repaid in May.

First Niagara expects to complete its pending acquisition of Harleysville National (HNBC) during the first quarter, which will bring in another $4 billion in deposits in Pennsylvania.

As the company took advantage of market turmoil in 2009 to make significant branch acquisitions and increase its total assets 56% to $14.1 billion, credit quality remained very strong, with nonperforming assets -- including nonaccrual loans and repossessed real estate - comprising 0.52% of total assets as of Dec. 31. Loan losses during 2009 were low, with net charge-offs totaling $33.1 million or 0.50% of total loans.

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