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California Banks Dreaming of Profitability

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- While there have been no bank failures in California in 2012, nearly 20% of the Golden State's banks and thrifts have disappeared over the past four years and roughly 20% of the banks that survived are still losing money.

California has seen 38 bank failures since the wave of closures that began in 2008, trailing only Georgia, with 75 failures, Florida, with 60 and Illinois with 48. But California's overall banking landscape appears healthier than the other three states, since only two banks headquartered in the state were undercapitalized per normal regulatory guidelines as of Dec. 30, according to data provided by HighlineFI.

As we discussed on our coverage of banks in Illinois, Georgia, and Florida, community banks attempting to move beyond the real estate crisis are facing continued regulatory and political pressure against various sources of revenue, putting the traditional "free checking" business model in jeopardy.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, last Wednesday announced that it had "launched an inquiry into checking account overdraft programs to determine how these practices are impacting consumers," with Director Richard Cordray saying that "overdraft practices have the capacity to inflict serious economic harm on the people who can least afford it."

The Durbin Amendment's cap on interchange fees that large banks charge merchants to process debit card purchases has also been very painful, even for smaller players not directly affected by the rule, since their interchange fees must also decline, in order to accepted by merchants.

The Federal Reserve reported in its Beige Book on Jan. 11 that economic activity in the system's 12th District (San Francisco) "continued to grow at a moderate pace during the reporting period of late November through the end of December," although "housing markets stayed at very low levels, and demand for nonresidential real estate generally was weak."

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