WATERBURY, Conn. ( TheStreet) -- Webster Financial ( MTB) on Friday reported fourth-quarter net income available to common shareholders of $25 million, or 30 cents a share. The results came in ahead of the 20-cent consensus estimate among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. In comparison, Webster's earnings to common shareholders were $17.8 million, or 22 cents a share, during the third quarter and the company posted a net loss to common shareholders of $54.4 million, or 84 cents a share, during the fourth quarter of 2009. For the full year 2010, net income available to common shareholders was $49.4 million, or $60 a share, compared to a loss of $85.3 million, or $2.14 a share, in 2009. CEO James Smith said his firm was pleased "that credit metrics, profitability and other key performance metrics showed meaningful improvement," adding that "growth in loans in the quarter, most particularly middle market and commercial real estate originations, is a positive sign of quality financing opportunities in our core lines of business, and reflects a gradually improving regional economy." Following the industry pattern, the main factor in the earnings improvement was a decline in credit costs. Webster's fourth-quarter provision for loan loss reserves was $15 million, declining from $25 million the previous quarter and $67 million during the fourth quarter of 2009. Net charge-offs - loan losses less recoveries - totaled $33.7 million during the fourth quarter, meaning that the company "released" $18.7 million in loan loss reserves, which directly boosted the bottom line. This followed the pattern of the largest U.S. banks over the past several quarters. JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), released $1.9 billion in loan loss reserves during the fourth quarter. Webster's net interest margin - essentially the difference between a bank's annualized yield on loans and investments and its average cost of funds -was 3.40%, improving from 3.36% in the third quarter and 3.26% in the fourth quarter of 2009. The company's fourth-quarter return on average assets was 0.73% and its return on average tangible equity was 10.11%, which are both decent figures for a community bank in the current environment.
Total assets were $18 billion as of December 30 nonperforming assets totaled $301.2 million, or 1.67% of total assets, improving from a nonperforming assets ratio of 1.93% in September and 2.27% at the end of 2009. Webster Financial exited the Troubled Assets Relief Program on December 31, when the company repaid the government the final $200 million of a total in $400 million in bailout money the company received in November 2008. The company had previously repaid $100 million in March and another $100 million in October. The company raised $157 million in common equity during the fourth quarter, including two affiliates of Warburg Pincus, which invested about $36.4 million according to SNL Financial. The company reported a tangible common equity ratio of 6.82% as of December 31 and a Tier 1 common equity ratio of 9.87%. -- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla. To contact the writer, click here: Philip van Doorn. To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/PhilipvanDoorn. To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.