Columbia Bancorp reports profit up 70.2%

4Q increase is $1.5 million higher than period in 2001

January 22, 2003|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,SUN STAFF

Columbia Bancorp reported a $3.5 million profit for its fourth quarter yesterday, a 70.2 percent increase over the year before and better than analysts expected.

On a per-share basis, the Columbia-based parent of The Columbia Bank earned 48 cents. For the fourth quarter of 2001, the company earned $2 million, or 28 cents per share.

"It was a good quarter," said Jennifer Demba, an analyst with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey in Atlanta.

Columbia's gain on the sale of mortgages was better than expected, Demba said. Also, the company benefited from improved credit quality, she said, with nonperforming assets dropping to $909,000 at the end of December from $5.2 million at year-end 2001.

John A. Scaldara Jr., chief financial officer, also credited Columbia's performance to rising fee income, cost controls and being able to maintain the spread between what it pays on deposits and earns on loans.

The consensus among analysts was that it would earn 38 cents a share in the quarter, excluding one-time gains and expenses. Using this measure, which excluded the $720,000 sale of an office building, Columbia earned 42 cents a share.

For the year, Columbia earned $10.9 million, or $1.50 a share, compared with $8.2 million, or $1.13 a share, the year before. Total assets at year's end were $982 million, a 15.6 percent increase over the year before.

Columbia's stock gained 59 cents a share yesterday to close at $22.60.

Smaller banks in Maryland and Northern Virginia saw a jump in stock prices yesterday after BB&T Corp. announced that it was buying First Virginia Banks Inc. in a $3.4 billion stock swap, Demba said.

"That deal underscores the value of banks in the D.C. metropolitan area," she said.

Several analysts said Columbia, with 24 branches in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, would make an attractive acquisition target. "It is in some of the best markets in Maryland," said Gary Townsend, an analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Inc. in Arlington, Va.

"We have always been mentioned as an attractive takeover target because we are developing a strong franchise in a very good market," said Scaldara, who declined to comment further.

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