Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB) saw its fourth-quarter profit rise 12% from a year earlier as the bank recorded fewer charges on bad loans and continued growing its lending business. The Cincinnati-based bank earned $305 million, or 33 cents a share, for the three months ended Dec. 31, up from $270 million, or 33 cents a share. Lending activity continued to expand throughout the final quarter of 2011, with Fifth Third noting 5% growth in lending from the fourth quarter of 2010. The company said demand for loans also picked up in the fourth quarter with 5% growth in commercial and industrial lending. Soured loans declined overall, saving the bank on loss reserves and loan write-offs. Assets classified as nonperforming, including loans held for sale, were valued at $2 billion, a 9% reduction from the previous quarter. Net charge-offs fell to 1.19% of loans and leases, making it the lowest charge-off level recorded in four years. Nonperforming assets declined 7% from the third quarter, while delinquency rates remained consistent with pre-crisis levels, the company said. Still, credit and portfolio performance trends were more favorable. Fifth Third's loan loss allowance declined by $184 million as credit trends improved overall. For the entire year, Fifth Third earned $1.1 billion, or $1.18 a share, up from $503 million, or 63 cents a share, for 2010. Write to Kerri Panchuk.