U.S. banks earned more from January through March than during any quarter on record, buoyed by greater income from fees and fewer losses from bad loans.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Wednesday the banking industry earned $40.3 billion in the first quarter, up 15.8 percent from the $34.8 billion earned in the first quarter of 2012. The previous high mark was when the industry was smaller in terms of total assets.
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Despite record earnings, the report sketched a mixed picture for an industry that is still finding its way five years after the peak of the 2008 financial crisis.
Only about half of U.S. banks reported improved earnings from a year earlier, the lowest proportion since 2009. Bank lending declined after several quarters of increases. And bank profits from interest charged fell to the lowest level in nearly seven years.
A reduction in expenses for legal costs and proceeds from a settlement boosted earnings during the quarter, the FDIC said.
Banks also reduced to a six-year low the amount they set aside in case of losses on loans, the FDIC said.
"We saw improvement in asset quality indicators over the quarter, a continued increase in the number of profitable institutions, and further declines in the number of problem banks and bank failures," FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg said in a statement.
However, tighter net interest margins and slow loan growth create an incentive for institutions to reach for yield, which is a matter of ongoing supervisory attention."
_ By The Associated Press with Reuters