First Financial Holdings Inc. capped off what its top executive called "a transformational year" in 2013 with a record profit.

Fueled partly by gains at its newly combined SCBT and First Federal of Charleston banking units, the company reported net income of $13.2 million for the last three month of the year Tuesday. That was up almost 6 percent compared to the last three months of 2012.

Loan growth increased 11 percent from October to December while bad assets fell by nearly a third for the period, the company said.

The results reflect the first full quarter since SCBT and First Federal teamed up in late July. The $447 million stock swap was the biggest bank acquisition in state history.

Fior the full year, the parent comany earned $48 million, an increase of 59 percent from 2012.

"While much attention has been focused on the merger, we did not lose focus on operating the company," CEO Robert Hill told industry analysts Tuesday.

The marriage matched up SCBT's strongholds in the Midlands and along the Interstate 85 business corridor with First Federal's presence along the coast.

First Financial, formerly SCBT Financial Corp., has 141 branches operating right now as SCBT, First Federal and two other brands in the Carolinas and Georgia.

The process of combining the two largest banks will continue this year as the parent company seeks to wring out a total of $40 million in annual savings from the Charleston acquisition, said John Pollok, chief financial officer.

The cost-reduction plan includes the closing of five local offices and another 15 around the state in 2014. Those offices will be consolidated with nearby locations.

The process is expected to culminate in July, when all four of First Financial's banking subsidiaries begin operating on a single technology platform. By that time, the lenders will likely be united in another way - under a new name that's yet to be announced.

"We feel like we're on track with our original estimates and goals for the merger," Hill said.

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.