When markets closed Thursday, Pacific Capital Bancorp shares were up nearly 17 percent — which could signal big changes in the future.

Any news could come when the company announces its fourth-quarter financial results at 8 a.m. next Thursday. The public is invited to listen in on the call online by logging into the investor relations page on the company’s Web site.

Pacific Capital owns 46 branches under the local names of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, First National Bank of Central California, South Valley National Bank, San Benito Bank and First Bank of San Luis Obispo

Just one week ago, the company announced it had completed its sale of a refund anticipatory loan and refund transfer business to Santa Barbara Tax Products Group, a new company formed by tax division management with the financial backing of an investment firm. Pacific Capital could receive up to $10 million in the deal.

Pacific Capital was one of the nation’s top issuers of that type of loan, which has been highly lucrative and brought in $140 million in net interest for the company in 2009’s first quarter. The loans, which are issued to borrowers after they file a tax return, are short term and reach interest rates of 100 percent or more. Fees on the loans increased $42.8 million from 2008.

“The sale of the tax division represents an important step in the return of the company back to our traditional community bank business model,” George Leis, president and CEO of Pacific Capital Bancorp, said in a statement.

Recent regulatory changes have affected the bank’s offering of RALs this tax season, reducing the value for the company, Leis said.

“We determined that the best course of action was to exit this business and fully allocate our capital towards the support of commercial and consumer lending activities in our markets along the Central Coast of California,” he said.

News of the share price comes as welcome news to shareholders, who have weathered a tough year with the bank.

The bank suffered multiple hits last year and lost nearly $8 million in the first quarter of 2009, compared with its net income of $72.5 million for the same quarter last year — even after receiving $180.6 million in TARP funds in November 2008.

The second quarter showed an even more dramatic net loss of $362.6 million. Over the summer, the company announced it would suspend dividend payments to shareholders, and its credit rating was lowered to junk bond status.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.