WASHINGTON (AP)— U.S. banks’ earnings rose 6.9 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier as revenues increased, delinquent loans continued to fall and the number of “problem” banks reached a six-year low.

The data issued Wednesday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. showed “gradual but steady improvement” for the banking industry, FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg said at a news conference. Still, low interest rates continued to crimp banks’ profit margins on loans during the January-March period.

The FDIC reported that U.S. banks earned $39.8 billion in the first quarter, up from $37.2 billion a year ago.

Nearly 63 percent of banks reported an increase in profit in the first quarter from a year earlier. Only 5.6 percent of banks were unprofitable ”“ the lowest percentage of unprofitable institutions since the second quarter of 2005.

The volume of delinquent loans fell by 6 percent, and the average noncurrent loan rate declined from 1.96 percent to 1.83 percent, a seven-year low.



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