Questions about mergers and acquisitions are likely to dominate first-quarter conference calls among regional banks in the coming weeks. But beyond the standard "we're open to opportunities" line from executives, the real story will be in the numbers.

For those banks that have been pegged as possible sellers, the earnings reports may be especially telling. If metrics like their nonperforming assets, capital levels and loan balances improve, troubled regional banks could prove their ability to stand on their own.

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