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First Niagara Delivers Record Quarter and Full Year Results

/ Source: GlobeNewswire

    BUFFALO, N.Y., Jan. 27, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- First Niagara Financial Group, Inc. (Nasdaq:FNFG) capped a very successful 2010 by delivering record results in the fourth quarter with operating (Non-GAAP) earnings of $49.7 million or $0.24 per diluted share. In addition, the Company increased its quarterly cash dividend by $.01 or 7% for the second consecutive quarter, to $0.16 per share.

    "2010 was a year of remarkable accomplishment and transformation for First Niagara," President and Chief Executive Officer John R. Koelmel said. "We significantly enhanced our franchise – strategically, financially, and operationally – emerging as a regional force in the financial services industry. In executing our game plan of disciplined growth and expansion, we have added the framework for a valuable and competitive Northeast footprint. We ended the year on a high note with another record performance that further demonstrates the strength of what we've built both in our Upstate New York markets where we continue to increase market share and in our newer Pennsylvania markets where we are exceeding our original expectations for new business generation. Given that consistently strong performance combined with our very solid capital position, we are pleased to announce a dividend increase for the second consecutive quarter, which will further enhance shareholder returns."

    Mr. Koelmel added, "As proud as we are of our achievements, our focus remains on the future. We are a growth company differentiated by our track record of strong performance, excellent positioning, and outstanding potential. We operate in markets that are among the most attractive in the country. We have made key investments in talent and infrastructure that provide us the operating platform to achieve our growth aspirations. While today's operating environment has a fair degree of uncertainty, we remain committed to high performance outcomes. Therefore, knowing that we can't rely solely on revenue growth in the near term, we are accelerating our plans to achieve greater productivity and efficiency by taking a hard look at our distribution system and other assets that are producing suboptimal returns. We also eagerly await the closing of the NewAlliance merger and bringing our winning business model to the customers and communities in their markets."

    Fourth Quarter and Full Year Results

    For the quarter ended December 31, 2010, operating (Non-GAAP) net earnings - that is, reported net income exclusive of non-operating items - were $49.7 million or $0.24 per diluted share. This compared to $46.9 million or $0.23 per diluted share in the linked quarter and $31.3 million or $0.17 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2009. Reported (GAAP) net income inclusive of non-operating items, primarily acquisition and integration expenses, totaled $45.9 million or $0.22 per diluted share compared to $45.6 million or $0.22 in the linked quarter and $28.9 million or $0.16 in the prior year.

    For the full year 2010, the Company produced operating (Non-GAAP) income of $174.1 million or $0.87 per diluted share compared to $105.6 million or $0.72 per share in 2009. The 21% increase in operating earnings per share for the year occurred despite a 36% increase in weighted average shares outstanding, reflecting the immediately accretive benefit of recent acquisitions along with strong organic growth. Reported (GAAP) net income amounted to $140.4 million or $0.70 per diluted share in 2010 and $79.4 million or $0.46 per diluted share in 2009.

    Annual Results

    All amounts in millions except earnings per diluted share. The Non-GAAP/Operating Results table above summarizes the Company's operating results excluding certain non-operating items. 

    (a) 2010 – Q4: After-tax noninterest expense: Acquisition related expenses of $3.8 million.  Q3: After-tax noninterest expense: Acquisition related expenses of $1.3 million, Q2: After-tax noninterest expense: Acquisition related expenses of $18.8 million, $5.6 million charitable contribution related to the acquired markets in Eastern Pennsylvania and severance and related costs of $0.5 million. Q1: After-tax noninterest expense:  Acquisition related expenses of $3.7 million. 

    2009 - Q4: After-tax noninterest expense: Acquisition related expenses of $2.4 million. Q3: After-tax noninterest income: Gain on the sale of the merchant services' customer list of $1.5 million. After-tax noninterest expense: Acquisition related expenses of $14.9 million, and a $3.0 million charitable contribution related to the acquired markets in Western Pennsylvania.  Q2: After-tax noninterest expense: FDIC special assessment charge of $3.3 million based on each insured depository institution's assets less Tier 1 Capital. Also, acquisition related expenses of $1.4 million. Q1: After-tax noninterest expense: Settlement of service mark infringement matter of $1.8 million and acquisition related expenses of $1.0 million.

    (b) 2009 - Q2: Accelerated discount accretion of $7.7 million resulting from the redemption of preferred stock purchased by the U.S. Treasury Department under the Troubled Asset Relief Program and $1.7 million of accrued dividends and preferred stock discount accretion through the redemption date. Q1: Accrued dividends and preferred stock discount accretion of $2.7 million.

    Record performance driven by strong top line

    The Company's performance continues to be driven by steady revenue growth and consistently increasing core business volumes. 

    Organic loan growth across all markets

    The Company is generating robust loan growth in each of its major markets as it steadily attracts new customers and expands existing relationships. Business volumes rose throughout 2010. Response to the Company's comprehensive product offerings and service model has been very positive and is driving market share gains. In the newer Pennsylvania markets, customer retention and new business generation continue to exceed original expectations.

    Shareholders benefiting from consistent financial performance and capital strength

    At December 31, 2010 the Company's consolidated Total Risk Based capital and Tier 1 Common Risk Based capital ratios were 14.35% and 12.76%, respectively, well above current regulatory guidelines for well capitalized institutions. The Company also expects to be substantially above anticipated regulatory thresholds associated with recently released Basel III guidelines. As was the case in the prior quarter, the Company's consistent performance and capital strength affords it the opportunity to distribute excess capital to its shareholders. Accordingly, the Board of Directors has approved a 7% increase in the quarterly common dividend to $0.16 per share. The dividend is payable on February 22, 2011 to stockholders of record on February 8, 2011.

    Chief Financial Officer Michael W. Harrington said, "The fourth quarter culminated another excellent year as the strength of our top line drove record performance. Our fundamentals have never been in better shape. Nothing symbolizes this better than the exceptional commercial loan growth we've consistently produced as we steadily gain traction from our increased capacity, deeper product set and active presence in the marketplace. This growth is being achieved without a relaxation of credit standards as demonstrated by our sound credit quality. We've also been able to successfully withstand the pressure on interest margins confronting our industry from the low rate environment through resourceful treasury management. Operating expense levels in the fourth quarter were well contained. The improvement in the related efficiency ratio stems directly from the positive operating leverage we continue to generate. We expect to drive this measure even lower by expediting our efforts to optimize overall resource utilization. With the multiple levers at our disposal, we are confident in our ability to continue producing strong results despite the uncertain macro environment. We enter the new year in excellent health, poised to exploit our position of strength."

    Quarterly Results

    All amounts in millions except earnings per diluted share. The Non-GAAP/Operating Results table above summarized the Company's operating results excluding certain non-operating items. 

    (a) 2010 – Q4: After-tax noninterest expense: Acquisition related expenses of $3.8 million. 2010 – Q3. After tax noninterest expense Acquisition related expenses of $1.3 million. 2009 - Q4: After-tax noninterest expense: Acquisition related expenses of $2.4 million.

    Loans

    The commercial loan portfolio continued to grow at an exceptional pace, rising at an annualized rate of 18% in the fourth quarter to $6.7 billion on average. The Company's concerted efforts to meet the needs of creditworthy businesses have consistently led to double-digit loan growth, far outpacing industry peers. Origination volumes have been robust across the Upstate New York and newer Pennsylvania markets and reached record monthly levels during the fourth quarter. The commercial pipeline remains strong. Similarly, the home equity portfolio maintained its vigorous growth rate as customers respond favorably to the Company's product offerings and promotional campaigns. Home equity balances grew by 12% annualized in the fourth quarter to $1.5 billion. Residential mortgage originations remained at healthy levels but portfolio balances continued to decline as the Company adheres to its practice of selling longer term fixed rate mortgages in the secondary market.

    Credit Quality

    The Company's credit picture remained solid and stable. Nonperforming loans at December 31, 2010 of $89.3 million equated to 0.85% of total loans as compared to 0.93% and 0.94% in the linked quarter and prior year end, respectively. Net chargeoffs of $12.7 million in the fourth quarter represented 0.49% of average loans on an annualized basis, comparable to the full year experience of 0.44% in 2010 and 0.50% in 2009. The provision for credit losses totaled $13.5 million in the fourth quarter, increasing the allowance for losses to $95.4 million at December 31, 2010. The allowance equaled 107% of nonperforming loans and, excluding loans acquired at fair value as of their acquisition dates, 1.21% of total loans.   

    Deposits

    Core deposit levels continued their steady ascent with average balances rising to $9.8 billion in the fourth quarter. Strong deposit activity is being generated across the retail, commercial, and municipal sectors with some of the strongest growth in the fourth quarter in noninterest-bearing deposits. The volume of new account openings in the upstate New York and newer Pennsylvania markets remains strong. Higher cost CD balances continue to decline in line with the Company's focus on more profitable relationships. At December 31, 2010 core deposits increased to 75% of total deposits versus 70% a year ago. The loan-to-deposit ratio stood at 80% at year end.

    Net Interest Income

    Net interest income of $167.5 million in the fourth quarter continues the trend of quarterly growth. This is primarily attributable to ongoing strong loan growth and higher earning asset levels. The taxable equivalent net interest margin for the fourth quarter rose to 3.65%, consistent with the full year 2010 margin of 3.64% and 3.65% for 2009. The Company has been successful in countering the pressure on the margin due to the prolonged low rate environment by steadily reducing its cost of funds, achieving a higher yielding loan mix, and profitably reinvesting excess liquidity.

    Noninterest Income

    Noninterest income grew by 9% over the linked quarter to $54.1 million reflecting the Company's increased emphasis on fee based services and cross-selling to existing customers. Most of the growth in the fourth quarter was driven by higher loan and banking service fees arising from increased loan origination primarily mortgage banking and deposit activity. The Company has been adding more sophisticated product offerings to its commercial clients which are gaining traction across all markets.

    Noninterest Expense

    Operating (Non-GAAP) noninterest expense grew modestly in the fourth quarter to $133.4 million in line with higher revenue levels and increased capacity. The related efficiency ratio improved to 60% as compared to 62% in the previous quarter. The higher expense level was attributable to increases in various categories such as professional fees, FDIC premiums, and occupancy costs. This was partially offset by lower employee related costs. Reported (GAAP) noninterest expense for the current quarter totaled $139.3 million and included non-operating merger and integration costs.

    First Niagara Financial Group, Inc., through its wholly owned subsidiary, First Niagara Bank, N.A., has $21 billion in assets, 257 branches and $13 billion in deposits. First Niagara Bank, N.A. is a multi-state community-oriented bank providing financial services to individuals, families and businesses.  Upon completion of its pending merger with NewAlliance Bancorp, Inc. -- subject to customary closing conditions including approvals from regulators -- First Niagara will have more than $29 billion in assets, $18 billion in deposits and 340 branches across Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. For more information, visit .

    Conference Call – A conference call will be held at 11 a.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, January 27, 2011 to discuss the Company's financial results and business strategy. Those wishing to participate in the call may dial toll-free 1-877-276-8648. A replay of the call will be available until February 10, 2011 by dialing 1-877-344-7529, Passcode 446447.

    Non-GAAP Measures - The Company believes that non-GAAP financial measures provide a meaningful comparison of the underlying operational performance of the Company, and facilitate investors' assessments of business and performance trends in comparison to others in the financial services industry. In addition, the Company believes the exclusion of these non-operating items enables management to perform a more effective evaluation and comparison of the Company's results and to assess performance in relation to the Company's ongoing operations. 

    Forward-Looking Statements - This press release contains forward-looking statements with respect to the financial condition and results of operations of First Niagara Financial Group, Inc. including, without limitations, statements relating to the earnings outlook of the Company. These forward-looking statements involve certain risks and uncertainties. Factors that may cause actual results to differ materially from those contemplated by such forward-looking statements include, among others, the following possibilities: (1) changes in the interest rate environment; (2) competitive pressure among financial services companies; (3) general economic conditions including an increase in non-performing loans that could result from an economic downturn; (4) changes in legislation or regulatory requirements; (5) difficulties in continuing to improve operating efficiencies; (6) difficulties in the integration of acquired businesses; and (7) increased risk associated with an increase in commercial real estate and business loans and non-performing loans.

    CONTACT: Officer Contacts John R. Koelmel, President and Chief Executive Officer Michael W. Harrington, Chief Financial Officer Anthony M. Alessi, Investor Relations Manager (716) 625-7692 tony.alessi@fnfg.com Leslie G. Garrity, Public Relations and Corporate Communications Manager (716) 819-5921 leslie.garrity@fnfg.com