Less than two years after it opened for business, First Mariner Bancorp posted its first quarterly profit of $24,076, the company said yesterday.

The fast-growing community bank earned a penny a share in the first quarter ended March 31, compared with a 27 cent loss for the same period in 1996.

"We are all very proud of this," said Edwin Hale Sr., chairman and chief executive officer of the banking company, and chairman of Hale Intermodal Transport Co., a Canton-based trucking and barge company. "Most people didn't give us a chance to have a profit until we were around for three years."

First Mariner's stock closed at $12, down 75 cents.

The profit comes just weeks after First Mariner lost $2.2 million for calendar year 1996 -- driven largely by costs for opening branches. Large losses are not unusual for start-up banks during the first three years of operation.

First Mariner's assets more than doubled from a year ago to $156.5 million in the first quarter. Loans more than doubled to $107.1 million, and deposits more than doubled to $118.9 million.

Expenses also jumped to $2 million, up 102.7 percent.

Loan demand is "completely off the charts from what we thought it was going to be," Hale said. "We have a lot of people [customers] who are refugees from the bigger national banks."

Hale said First Mariner has about $88 million in loans that it expects to book this year.

"There is such great demand," he said. "We are being very forthright and very careful. We are not just throwing loans on there just to book them."

First Mariner is well capitalized with $26.3 million in stockholder equity. It raised $15.6 million in an initial public offering last December and began trading on Nasdaq.

First Mariner operates 14 branches in Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties and Baltimore city. Three more branches are slated to open this year.

Hale said the company is ahead of schedule in its development.

"I believe we can grow into the billions in assets with the staff we have right now," he said.

Pub Date: 4/23/97

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