Reflecting the gloomy economic climate, the largest Charleston-based bank owner posted a $6.5 million quarterly loss Thursday while profits slid for a smaller crosstown lender.

First Financial Holdings Inc., the parent of First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Charleston, said its fiscal 2009 first-quarter loss compared with a $2.9 million gain for the year-earlier period.

At the same, time, Bank of South Carolina Corp. said its fourth-quarter 2008 profit fell 12 percent to $783,863, or 20 cents a share.

A. Thomas Hood, First Financial's president and chief executive officer, said in a statement that "these are the most difficult times" he has experienced in 34 years in the banking industry.

Speaking to analysts, he cited sinking housing prices, rising unemployment and the slowdown in consumer spending.

On a per-share basis, First Financial's loss for the three months ended Dec. 31 was 58 cents.

"Our results reflect the impact that the current recession has had on our markets," Hood said.

First Financial said it sharply increased its loan-loss reserves at First Federal by $20.5 million for the last quarter, up from $5.2 million as of Sept. 30 and $3.2 million as of Dec. 31, 2007.

Delinquent loans that are past due by at least 30 days jumped by 48 percent to $35.1 million compared to the previous quarter. Hood said during a conference call Thursday that he expects real estate foreclosures to continue rising but that they "are very, very manageable to date" at First Federal.

First Financial's results were also affected by a $2.1 million write-down on three investments known as "collateralized debt obligations" to reflect current market values. The company said it does not "reasonably expect" to receive all the returns it had anticipated from those fixed-income securities.

On the bright side, Hood said, historically low interest rates on 30-year mortgages are providing a boost to First Federal's refinancing business.

First Financial Holdings has $3 billion in assets and 58 banking offices, mostly in coastal South Carolina and the Pee Dee region. It also operates insurance and brokerage subsidiaries, and it said its banking unit remained in the "well-capitalized" category under federal regulatory standards as of Dec. 31.

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Shares of First Financial closed down 56 cents Thursday to $16.60.

At Bank of South Carolina, CEO Hugh C. Lane said he expected that 2008 "would be a challenge, but as the year unfolded, our expectations were exceeded by the failure of major companies, a severe worldwide liquidity crisis, and the subsequent government bailouts."

Despite the turmoil, the three-branch community bank said it "enjoyed good loan and deposit growth" and that it exceeded its lowered profit forecast. Earnings for the year fell 24 percent to $2.94 million, or 74 cents a share, compared to 2007. Total assets increased by 8 percent to about $244 million.

Lane said it was the company's fourth-best year ever.

"Our performance in 2008 was shaped by what we have done since the bank started 22 years ago; building a loyal customer base while maintaining strong capital, liquidity, earnings and asset quality," he said in statement.

Shares of Bank of South Carolina closed unchanged Thursday at $10.