It's beginning to look like 1987 was the year Utah's banks finally cured what has been ailing them for the past five years. And if a second opinion were needed, the first quarter of 1988 confirms the diagnosis.

Such is the case with Continental Bank and its parent company, the Boise-based Moore Financial Group. Moore saw a net loss of $3.3 million in 1986 turn into a net income gain of $16.9 million ($2.25 per share) in '87 prompting Moore Chairman Daniel R. Nelson to comment, "We see indications of a future more identifiable with the historic high performance of this company."

So it seems. Prior to the company's annual shareholders presentation at Little America Tuesday, Moore released first-quarter '88 figures which show net income of $5.2 million (67 cents per share), a whopping 45.4 percent increase over first-quarter '87's $3.6 million (50 cents per share).

More importantly, it was the fourth straight quarter of improved earnings. Loan growth was also up 4 percent and provisions for credit losses were down 46 percent.

Nelson said non-performing assets - the bane of most Western banks coming off a long period of depressed mining, minerals, agriculture and real estate - were down $2.1 million to $68.3 million as of March 31.

"The growth in quality loans and the decrease in credit losses that we have been able to achieve over the last year are particularly gratifying," Nelson told shareholders and others gathered for the Utah segment of the bank holding company's annual meeting. (Moore's "official" 1987 annual meeting was held April 21 in Boise.)

"First quarter improvements in net interest income (up 8.8 percent over a year ago) and the continued tight management of expenses are consistent with out long term strategic perfornamce goals."

In short, said Nelson, "The company's in our operating areas are starting to make some money and so are we." He said Moore's goal is to become a $5 billion financial services company within 3-5 years. Moore currently has total assets of $3.5 billion.

Continental President James C. Stewart said the bank - chartered in 1909 and acquired by Moore in 1985 - had a good year. Although Continental's financials are consolidated with the other Moore subsidiaries - including Idaho First National Bank and Oregon First Bank - Stewart said they were well ahead of original projections for 1987.

Stewart said Continental accomplished its "critical objectives" for 1987 of developing its long-term plan in which various departments target specific market segments.

He said commercial loans in the business banking group increased last year as the division established a presence in Ogden, and the international banking department, launched two years ago, gained strength in providing import-export financing through letters of credit and foreign exchange trading.

Moore Vice Chairman Dale Blickenstaff offered an economic overview and forecast of the remainder of 1988. His prognosis: no recession this year. Interest rates and inflation should remain fairly constant at current levels.