Hand-in-hand with Sterling's loan-growth strategy is its focus on growing non-interest bearing deposits, which increased 19% year-over-year to $849.1 million as of Dec. 31, and made up over 40% of total deposits as of Dec. 31, which the company said was "among the highest ratios of demand to total deposits in the industry."

Sterling CFO John Tietjen says the growth in non-interest bearing deposits is "directly connected" to the company's growing commercial loan portfolio. "In our business model, part of our loan pricing is a compensating balance requirement, which we have on all of our lending relationships. That and our business development activities in non-lending areas have resulted in a big pickup in non-interest bearing deposits."

Sterling's fourth-quarter noninterest income totaled $9.6 million in the fourth quarter, increasing from $9.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. With the Universal Mortgage acquisition completed in September, Sterling's mortgage banking income nearly tripled year-over-year to $3.0 million in the fourth quarter. The increased mortgage income was partially offset by a decline in accounts receivable management and other fees, to $3.9 million in the fourth quarter from $5.6 million a year earlier.

Tietjen says "there were two factoring clients that were large users of letters of credit who no longer need those services, and as a result that line was impacted rather dramatically. If you look at trade finance income, which is the fees we charge for non-factoring clients, they are flat for the quarter and down slightly from a year earlier. There is not a dramatic change for the letter of credit business, other than these two factoring clients."

The company's return on average assets (ROA) for 2012 was 0.78% and its return on average tangible equity (ROE) was 9.80%. When discussing the company's goals, Tietjen says "there was a time in a normal rate environment, before many institutions, including ourselves, raised additional equity, when we were delivering a very nice ROA over 1% and ROE over 15%. We are going to get an ROA closer a 1% level and an ROE closer to or over 10%."

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