MEMPHIS, TN. ( TheStreet) -- First Horizon National ( FHN - Get Report) released a bigger-than-expected earnings disappointment for the fourth quarter, but its shares were proving resilient at the market open on Tuesday morning.

Some investors may have been expecting the weaker results by last Friday: 5.7 million shares of First Horizon, more than double its average volume, were traded last Friday, with the regional bank's shares down 35 cents, to $13.63 on the last trading day of the week.

By Tuesday morning, First Horizon was trading up in the moments after the market open, and the shares had returned to a level near the $14 market -- First Horizon's 52-week high is $14.60.

The First Horizon fourth quarter loss was 32 cents per share, or a loss of just more than $70 million. That compared unfavorably with an analyst estimate of a 21 cent loss per share. The loss level was also up from the previous quarter, when First Horizon lost $53 million, or 24 cents per share.

The full year loss for 2009 was also higher than the previous year -- $1.49 per share, versus $1.03 per share in 2008.

However, amidst the earnings disappointment, First Horizon management was trying to focus investors away from the financial data, and onto its improvements in moving beyond nonperforming assets and charge-offs.

"Although challenging, 2009 was a year of positive change for First Horizon," said CEO Bryan Jordan. "Looking beyond our bottom-line fourth quarter and full-year losses, we made significant progress in executing our strategic plan to reposition First Horizon for consistent long-term profitability."

Nonperforming assets were down 14% in the fourth quarter, marking the third consecutive quarterly decline in bad assets. Net charge-offs declined 9%, the second consecutive quarterly drop.

The mortgage market continues to loom large, however, in the relative weakness of First Horizon's earnings, and the mixed signals being sent by a decreased level of bad assets.

Foreclosure and repurchase provision of $59.3 million and increased loan loss provision drove the mortgage banking business down.

However, loan portfolios in wind-down mode declined by approximately $500 million from the third quarter, as core deposits increased $350 million, a 3% increase from the previous quarter.

-- Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.

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