Debt buyer Encore Capital Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: ECPG) late Thursday reported financial results for the fourth quarter and full year 2011 that show the company moving closer to a half billion dollars in annual revenue.

San Diego-based Encore said that net income in the fourth quarter of 2011 increased 20 percent to $17.1 million, or $0.67 per share. For the full year, net income totaled $61 million — $2.37 per share — an increase of 24 percent over 2010.

Encore reported that total revenue for 2011 increased 23 percent to $467.4 million. Gross collections for the full year grew 26 percent to $761.2 million. By channel, the company said that legal collections grew 41.5 percent to $377.5 million, making it the most productive collection channel. Recoveries from Encore’s collection call centers grew 25 percent to $336 million, while gross collections from outsourcing to external collection agencies fell 30 percent to $47.6 million.

In an SEC filing, Encore attributed the large gains in gross collections to increased debt portfolio purchasing activity.

The company said that in 2011 it spent $386.9 million to purchase $11.7 billion in face value of debt, compared to $362 million to purchase $10.9 billion in face value of debt in 2010. Of the amount it spent on debt, Encore said that credit card accounts accounted for $346.3 million, roughly flat from 2010, and that telecom accounts accounted for $38.9 million, a nearly 400 percent increase from 2010. The company greatly decreased it purchase of consumer bankruptcy paper, spending only $1.6 million on that type in 2011 compared to $12.2 million in 2010.

Encore also noted that in January 2012, it opened its first near-shore collection site in Costa Rica to better serve Spanish-speaking consumers. The site can accommodate 200 employees. The company first disclosed the location in its third quarter 2011 results filing in October.

The company said that at the end of 2011, it employed 795 in the United States — up 17.2 percent from 2010 — and 1,426 in India, up 17.5 percent from the previous year.

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