UPDATE 1-Webster Q4 beats Street on improving credit trend
* Q4 EPS $0.30 vs est $0.20
* Loan loss provisions down 78 pct
Jan 14 (Reuters) - Webster Financial Corp (WBS.N) reported a quarterly profit well ahead of analysts' expectations for the third straight quarter, as the top New England lender set aside less money for bad loans.
Fourth-quarter net income available to common shareholders was $25.0 million, or 30 cents a share, compared with a loss of $54.4 million, or 84 cents, in the year-ago period.
Analysts expected the company to earn 20 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
"The growth in loans in the quarter, most particularly middle market and commercial real estate originations, is a positive sign of quality financing opportunities in our core lines of business," Chief Executive James Smith said in a statement.
Provision for loan losses fell 78 percent to $15.0 million in the quarter.
Total non-performing loans were $273.6 million, or 2.48 percent of total loans at Dec. 31, compared with $311.1 million, or 2.85 percent, at Sept. 30.
Net interest margin -- the difference between what banks earn on loans and pay on deposits - increased 4 basis points to 3.40 percent.
Shares of the Waterbury, Connecticut-based company, closed at $19.70 on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has risen 11 percent in value since the company reported strong third-quarter results in mid October. (Reporting by Sweta Singh in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)