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On Jul 2, Zacks Investment Research upgraded Center Bancorp Inc. to a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

Why the Upgrade?

Center Bancorp has been witnessing rising earnings estimates on the back of strong first-quarter 2013 results along with solid capital deployment activities. Moreover, this well-known various banking services provider delivered positive earnings surprises in 3 of the last 4 quarters with an average beat of 4.9%. The long-term expected earnings growth rate for this stock is 10%.

On May 22, Center Bancorp’s board of directors declared a quarterly cash dividend of 7.5 cents per share, reflecting an increase of 36.36% compared with the dividend declared in first-quarter 2013. The increased dividend will be paid on Aug 1, 2013, to all shareholders of record as on Jul 12, 2013.

Center Bancorp reported its first-quarter results on Apr 25 with earnings per share of 30 cents, beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 27 cents by 11.1% and the year-ago earnings of 25 cents by 20.0%. Robust results for the reported quarter were primarily aided by higher net interest income. Moreover, the company reflected a strong capital position and a marked improvement in credit quality.

Following first-quarter 2013 results and the dividend hike, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2013 increased 2.7% to $1.14 per share over the last 60 days. For 2014, the Zacks Consensus Estimate surged 5.2% to $1.22 per share over the same time frame.

Other Stocks to Consider

Besides Center Bancorp, other Northeast banks that are worth considering include S&T Bancorp Inc. (STBA - Snapshot Report), with a  Zacks Rank #1, while Rockville Financial Inc. and Eagle Bancorp, Inc. (EGBN - Snapshot Report) carry a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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