Industry indicators deteriorated nearly across the board. The FDIC said loan losses for U.S. banks climbed for the 12th straight quarter, while the total loan balances for U.S. banks continued to fall. The agency said the quarterly net charge-off rate and the total number of loans at least three months past due both were at the highest level ever recorded in the 26 years the data have been collected.
Net charge-offs of troubled loans occurred across all major loan categories, led by a $3.3 billion increase in residential mortgage loans. The FDIC said U.S. banks' coverage ratio--reserves divided by the amount of noncurrent loans--fell to 58.1% in the fourth quarter from 60.1% in the third quarter.
The FDIC did cite some reasons for optimism. The banking industry was able to report a modest profit of $914 million in the fourth quarter, compared with a record loss of $37.8 billion in the final three months of 2008. And while the largest banks were the beneficiaries of much of the earnings improvement, the agency said more than half of FDIC-insured banks saw a year-over-year improvement in their net income.
Banks' profits were helped by improvements in trading revenue, which totaled $2.8 billion the fourth quarter, and servicing income, which represented a gain of $8.0 billion. The FDIC also said that more than half of all banks reported higher net interest margins in the fourth quarter compared with third-quarter levels.
"Resolving these credit market dislocations will take time," Bair said, describing banks as "bumping along the bottom of the credit cycle."