GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Fourth-quarter profit rose for the parent of Hancock and Whitney banks as merger expenses eased, but it lost money on a loan sale.

Hancock Holding Co. posted profit Thursday of $47 million, or 54 cents per share. That's 147 percent above $19 million, or 22 cents per share, in 2011's fourth quarter.

Analysts polled by FactSet had forecast 63 cents per share, on average.

That year-ago quarter, months after Hancock acquired New Orleans-based Whitney National Bank, included $40.2 million in merger costs. The just-ended quarter had no merger costs. The company, which cut 500 jobs from the end of 2011 to the end of 2012, says it has reached its savings targets from the merger.

Hancock set aside $13.7 million — 10 cents per share — when it sold $40 million worth of bad loans at the end of the year.

"The bulk loan sale completed at year-end was a prudent and effective use of the Company's strong capital position in reducing both nonperforming assets and the costs associated with carrying these assets," said Hancock CEO Carl Chaney said in a statement.

Overall, the bank set aside $28.1 million for anticipated bad loans during the fourth quarter, up from $11.5 million in the same quarter of 2011.

For the year, Hancock posted profit of $152 million, or $1.75 a share. That compares to $77 million, or $1.15 per share in 2011.

Hancock said overall loans grew slightly, driven by continued business lending to energy firms in Louisiana and Texas.

The bank said its return on assets, a key measure of profitability, was 0.99 percent in the fourth quarter. That's below the 1.06 percent that all FDIC-insured banks made in the third quarter, but well above the 0.39 percent recorded in 2011's fourth quarter.

Based in Gulfport, Miss., the $19.5 billion company operates Hancock Bank in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and Whitney Bank in Louisiana and Texas.

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