TACOMA, Wash. - Columbia Banking System Inc. has announced earnings for the first quarter of 2006 of $8.2 million, up 30 percent from $6.3 million for the first quarter of 2005.

For the same period, the bank reported earnings per share increased to $0.51 per diluted share, an increase of 28 percent from $0.40 per diluted share one year ago.

The Tacoma-based bank took over the Bank of Astoria in the fourth quarter of 2004.

"We are pleased to see profitability continue to increase," said Melanie Dressel, president and chief executive officer. "Rising short-term interest rates, continued loan growth, increased interest income and expense control all contributed to our first-quarter results."

At March 31, Columbia's total assets were $2.46 billion, an increase of 10 percent from $2.24 billion at March 31, 2005, and 3 percent from $2.38 billion at Dec. 31, 2005.

Total loans were $1.60 billion at March 31, up 11 percent from $1.44 billion for the same period last year, and up 3 percent from $1.56 billion at year-end 2005.

Total deposits were $2.0 billion at March 31, an increase of 6 percent from March 31, 2005.

As the bank looks to expand, its most recent project is a new branch in Lacey, Wash., which may open in early 2007.

Columbia Banking System Inc. is a bank holding company whose wholly-owned banking subsidiaries are Columbia Bank and Bank of Astoria. Columbia Bank is a Washington state-chartered commercial bank with 35 offices in Pierce, King, Cowlitz, Kitsap and Thurston counties.

Bank of Astoria, a federally insured commercial bank based in Astoria, also operates branches in Warrenton, Seaside, Cannon Beach and Manzanita.

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