Since there is little clarity about capital requirements, we made ROA improvement a management priority. Our efforts to maximize balance sheet resources paid off, as we improved our return on assets by 12 basis points.
Although it did not happen as rapidly as we would have liked, we saw continued improvement in our credit metrics. Other income increased due to stable residential mortgage activity and despite regulatory restrictions on revenue.
We saw a modest increase in year-over-year expenses that enabled us to maintain our strong efficiency ratio. Our progress combined with confidence in our capital level also allowed us to increase the cash dividend to shareholders. Knowing how important dividends are for many of our shareholders, this was particularly gratifying in light of the confidence and patience they have exhibited over the last few years.
Now I want to direct our attention specifically to the fourth quarter. This was a somewhat mixed quarter and one that presented a number of challenges. While there were positives, there were also some headwinds. In a more normal environment, the impact of these headwinds would have been mitigated, but since the pace of economic growth and particularly credit demand is still not that brisk, we reported diluted net earnings per share at $0.18, down 10% from the $0.20 we made in the third quarter.On the credit front, Phil will give you more details. This quarter we sold at $35 million worth of nonperforming residential mortgages and nonperforming home equity loans. The transaction improved our overall credit metrics but also resulted in a charge to the allowance. After study, we concluded that the sale would enable us to more efficiently devote our resources to resolving our remaining nonperforming loans in 2012. We were encouraged to see some moderate loan growth that, if annualized, would be over 1%. As you know, over the last several quarters, our growth in various loan categories has been repeatedly offset by a reduction in our construction book. Last quarter was no exception.