On this call, representatives of Fulton may make forward-looking statements with respect to Fulton's financial conditions, results of operations and business. These forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors, some of which are beyond Fulton's control and difficult to predict and which could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or forecasted in the forward-looking statements. Fulton undertakes no obligation other than required by law to update or revise forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.
In our earnings release, we've included our Safe Harbor statement on forward-looking statements. We refer you to this section of the release and we've incorporated the statement into today's presentation. For a more complete discussion of certain risks and uncertainties affecting Fulton, please see the section entitled, Risk Factors and Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations set forth in Fulton's filings with the SEC. Now I'd like to turn the call over to your host, Scott Smith.
R. Scott Smith
Good morning, and thank you, Laura, and thank you, all for joining us. I'd like to begin with a few prepared remarks about our first quarter performance, then Phil Wenger will discuss credit and Charlie Nugent will cover the financial details. When we conclude, we'll be happy to respond to your questions.On previous calls and investor presentations, we've discussed our corporate priorities. They include growth and earnings per share, increasing our return on assets, managing the net interest margin, leveraging market opportunities, steadily improving our asset quality, lowering our credit costs and building and deploying capital effectively. I would like to look at each one of these areas more closely in the context of our first quarter performance. Diluted earnings per share for the first quarter came in at $0.19, up 5.6% from the $0.18 we reported last quarter and almost 12% improvement over the first quarter of 2011. These results give us a good start on 2012, a year that we hope will be marked by steadily improving business and economic conditions in all of our markets. In addition to growing earnings per share this quarter, we increased our return on assets. A key focus is the effective management of our balance sheet. We continue to work to maximize loan yields in a difficult competitive environment, while at the same time, utilizing our branch network to attract lower-cost funding. Maximizing our asset yields without assuming undue risks while controlling deposit costs enabled us to expand our net interest margins.