Expenses tied to South Carolina’s biggest-ever bank merger tugged slightly on the bottom line for the newly combined lender.

First Financial Holdings Inc., formerly SCBT Financial Corp., said Tuesday it earned $11.5 million in the third quarter, down 8 percent from a year ago.

It was the first quarterly report from the Columbia-based holding company since the $447 million merger brought together SCBT and First Federal banks on July 26.

Robert Hill Jr., CEO of First Financial Holdings, said the banks posted record operating earnings of $18.8 million when acquisition-related expenses and preferred stock dividend payments were factored out.

“Our company experienced solid organic growth and continued to add talented bankers to our team,” Hill said in a statement. “We are also pleased with the strength of our capital position, the pace of integration, and the opportunities to further improve (earnings) in the coming quarters. This quarter demonstrates the strength of our recent merger, both financially and strategically.”

Total assets at First Financial Holdings were $8 billion, up from $5 billion at June 30, driven primarily by the First Federal deal.

The merger paired SCBT’s operations in the Midlands and along the Interstate 85 business corridor between Charlotte and Atlanta with First Federal’s large presence along the coast.

The merger is expected to take most of 2014 to complete.

A new name for the bank, which will have 146 branches under four brands in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, is expected to be announced by the end of the year.

First Financial Holdings also approved a quarterly cash dividend of 19 cents a share on Tuesday. It’s payable on Nov. 22 to shareholders of record as of Nov. 15.