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Largest Banks Reap Greatest Calendar-Year Profits Since 2006

A new analysis from Bloomberg shows that, despite all their work-the-ref whining, bank executives are in the midst of their biggest payday in profits since the height of the housing bubble.

Four years ago today, President George W. Bush signed into law the biggest corporate rescue in American history. Even as U.S. unemployment has remained above 8 percent for 43 months, the country’s biggest banks are making almost as much as they ever have.

The combined $63 billion in profit reported by the six largest U.S. lenders over the four quarters through June is more than they earned in any calendar year since the peak in 2006.

Bank of America Corp. made more in the 12-month period than Walt Disney Co. and McDonald’s Corp. combined. Citigroup Inc. (C), which like Bank of America took $45 billion in taxpayer funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, earned more than Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) and Boeing Co. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the largest U.S. bank by assets, had profits of more than $17 billion even after reporting a $5.8 billion trading loss.

It’s not so surprising that massive public support, an implied government guarantee in the form of too big to fail, and access to the cheapest loans in recent memory leads to record profit. Not to mention a lack of accountability for the crimes perpetrated by the firms and their executives during the last crisis. Heck, even the executives from Countrywide, one of the most corrupt financial firms in history, can still get work. Membership has its privileges.

The reasons for Wall Street’s bounce-back are clear, and enumerated earlier. But the more recent growth can be attributed to the newfound profitability in home lending. The implementation of QE3 reduced the cost of selling loans into the marketplace, but banks did not drop their cost of lending in a commensurate fashion. That growing spread means big bucks for the banks. The other benefit comes from the refinance mini-boom. Refis always bring in profits in terms of closing fees. But because banks have interpreted the HARP 2.0 rules in such a way to limit the marketplace and trap underwater borrowers into staying with them, the cost of refinance loans has increased artificially. Basically, for underwater borrowers, servicers have decided to only offer refis on the loans they already service. By reducing competition, these servicers can charge higher interest rates for the loans, and they are.

You may get your feelings hurt a little bit, but there’s almost no better time to be a banker than right now.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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