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Sterling CEO: Small Businesses Fueling Loan Growth

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- John Millman, the president and CEO of Sterling National Bank, says he expects "continued double digit growth in both loans and deposits during 2012."

Sterling National Bank is the main subsidiary of Sterling Bancorp (STL - Get Report) of New York.

Sterling National Bank president and CEO John Millman

Sterling Bancorp on Monday reported first-quarter net income available to common shareholders of $4.6 million, or 15 cents a share, compared to $5.3 million, or 17 cents a share in the fourth quarter, and $3.3 million, or 12 cents a share, during the first quarter of 2011. Earnings declined sequentially because the company made a $2 million provision for income taxes during the first quarter, after reporting an $864,000 tax benefit in the fourth quarter.

The company's total portfolio loans grew 13% year-over-year, to $1.45 billion, with "a robust pipeline" of loans-in-process as of March 31, and with a loans-to-deposits ratio at a low 73.1%.

Total deposits increased 15% year-over-year to $2.0 billion as of March 31, with coveted noninterest-bearing demand deposits increasing 45% year-over-year, to $815.5 million.

Sterling's net interest margin -- the difference between a bank's average yield on loans and investments and its average cost for deposits and wholesale borrowings -- was 4.07% during the first quarter, improving from 3.77% in the fourth quarter, and 3.84% a year earlier, as a result of the company's "successful strategy of redeploying assets from the investment portfolio into loans," according to Sterling Bancorp CEO Louis Cappelli.

According to HighlineFI, Sterling Bancorp's first-quarter return on average assets was 0.74%, and the first-quarter return on average equity was 8.25%.

In an interview with TheStreet on Friday, Millman said "we feel really good about 2012," expressing confidence in Sterling's unfolding growth story, as well as in a continued economic recovery in the bank's New York market footprint.

TheStreet: How is Sterling National Bank achieving the loan growth?

John Milman: We're in a dynamite banking market -- the best in the world. Everyone wants to be in New York City. You have the greatest concentration of small and midsized companies here. We have had a very consistent strategy through good times and bad, focusing on privately owned entrepreneurial businesses. The money center banks can't focus on this kind of smaller company, because it takes so many five-million borrowers to move the needle for a trillion dollar institution.

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