Reality check: Amid greater regulation, bank profits soar [Video]

May 24, 2012|By David Lazarus

In case you were wondering, big banks are doing really, really well, thank you very much.

U.S. bank earnings rose in the first quarter to the highest level in nearly five years. Meanwhile, the number of troubled banks fell for the fourth straight quarter.

This is particularly noteworthy because our friends in the banking industry raised a considerable ruckus over a slew of new regulations. Despite driving the global economy to the brink of collapse a few years ago, industry representatives argued that increased oversight would mess up their business and hurt customers.

It didn't.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the banking industry pocketed $35.3 billion in the January-March period. That's up from $28.7 billion in the first quarter of 2011 and the highest level since the second quarter of 2007.

About 67% of U.S. banks reported improved earnings. But what's really exceptional here is that the biggest banks walked away with the biggest wads of cash.

We're talking about Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Each received billions in taxpayer bailout dough when the chips were down, and each argued loudly that they needed no additional supervision from Uncle Sam.

These banks with assets exceeding $10 billion make up just 1.4% of all U.S. banks. But they accounted for about 81% of the jump in quarterly earnings.

Maybe they should be asking for more regulation, not less.

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