First Mariner's net income for fourth quarter rose 30 percent

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore's First Mariner Bank reported yesterday that its net income rose 30 percent in the fourth quarter, propelled by demand for mortgages and residential construction loans.

First Mariner made $1.8 million in the fourth quarter of last year, or 29 cents per diluted share, compared with $1.4 million, or 23 cents per diluted share, during the comparable period of 2003. Its net income for the year rose 15 percent to $6.1 million from $5.3 million. Both quarterly and annual figures were record levels for the banking company.

First Mariner stock rose 13 cents to close at $17.89 yesterday. Its shares have gained 10 percent over the past six months.

"On the mortgage side, we've done well to establish some good relations with real estate agents, and as everyone knows, it's been a hot market for residential real estate," said Joe Cicero, chief operating officer. "We've also established a good niche for ourselves in commercial lending."

First Mariner logged $259 million in new mortgages during the quarter, a 30 percent increase over the fourth quarter of 2003. The bank opened a wholesale mortgage business last year in Fairfax, Va., that provides loans to mortgage brokers throughout the country.

Cicero said a strong regional economy and "rising but affordable interest rates" also drove growth in the bank's commercial and consumer loan portfolio. Net interest income for First Mariner was $11.2 million in the fourth quarter, up 20 percent from $9.3 million a year ago. Non-interest income was $5.1 million, up 10 percent from $4.6 million a year ago.

First Mariner, which operates 24 bank branches, ended the quarter with $825 million in deposits, a 10 percent increase from $748 million in the year-earlier period.

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