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Zions Swings To Unexpected Profit On Slim Loan-Loss Provision

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Zions Bancorp (ZION) posted its first quarterly profit in two and a half years, an unexpected swing, as the Utah-based regional bank set aside significantly less money for potential loan losses. Shares were up 4.1% at $23.90 after hours. Through the close, the stock had fallen 10% in the last year. Chairman and Chief Executive Harris H. Simmons said the company's "substantial moderation of loan losses and continued improvement in credit quality" allowed for the large reduction in loan-loss provision. The provision was only $60 million, compared with $265.6 million a year earlier and $173.2 million in the fourth quarter. As for credit quality, net charge-offs--loans the bank doesn't expect to collect--fell to 1.54% of annualized average loans from 2.29% last year and 2.71% last quarter. Nonperforming assets--or loans in danger of going bad--fell to 4.54% from 7.04% and 4.91%, respectively. In recent quarters, many regional banks have been reporting better bottom lines thanks to easing charge-offs and loan-loss provision as the economy recovers. However, Zions had remained unprofitable longer than the company had anticipated. Zions reported a profit of $52.8 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $60.2 million. On a per-share basis after preferred dividends, the bank swung to an 8-cent profit from a 57-cent loss. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters predicted an 18-cent loss. Net interest income fell 6.9% to $363.9 million but noninterest income climbed 25% to $134.1 million. Loan demand fell again, though the pace of decline was slighter. In the most recent period, net loans and leases fell 0.5% sequentially, compared with a 2.1% decline in the fourth quarter. Average total deposits declined 1.4% sequentially. During the downturn, regional banks' performance often was 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 to the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program to get through the worst of the downturn and has yet to repay the $1.4 billion it received from the federal government. -By Joan E. Solsman, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2291;

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