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Zions Bancorp 4Q Loss Narrows But Not As Much As Expected

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Zions Bancorp's (ZION) fourth-quarter loss narrowed on continuing declines in its provision for loan losses, as the Utah-based regional bank posted its ninth straight quarter in the red. In recent quarters, many regional banks have been reporting easing charge-offs and loan-loss provisions as the economy recovers. Zions Bancorp's credit-quality improvement prompted the company to anticipate swinging to profitability by early this year. However, Fitch Ratings said the company's long stretch of losses and weak capital ratios prompted it to downgrade the bank to the brink of junk territory in December. Provisions for potential loan losses fell to $173.2 million, compared with $390.7 million a year earlier and $184.7 million in the third quarter. Net charge-offs, loans the bank doesn't expect to collect, fell to 2.71% of annualized average loans from 2.87% last year but increased from 2.5% in the third quarter. Nonperforming assets, or loans in danger of going bad, declined to 4.91%, from 6.79% and 6.01%, respectively. Zions reported a loss of $72.2 million, or 62 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $184.1 million, or $1.26 a share. The number of shares outstanding was 27% higher in the most recent period. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters predicted a 37-cent loss. The most recent results included effects from discount amortization on convertible subordinated debt and additional accretion on acquired loans, without which the loss was 25 cents. Total interest income fell 5.3% to $574 million. In the most recent period, net loans and leases fell 2.1% sequentially, compared with a 1.2% decline in the third quarter. Average total deposits declined 1.2%. During the downturn, regional banks' performance was often closely linked to local real-estate markets. With operations in Western and Southwestern states, Zions was exposed to some of the hardest-hit housing markets. It turned the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program to get through the worst of the downturn. It has yet to repay the $1.4 billion it received from the federal government. Zions shares were down 0.5% at $23.64 after hours. Through the close of trading Monday, the stock was up 34% from its year-earlier level. -By Joan E. Solsman, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2291; joan.solsman@dowjones.com

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