NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. banks and thrifts earned $26.3 billion during the fourth quarter and $119.5 billion in earnings for 2011, the industry's best annual performance since 2006, according to a Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. statement issued Tuesday When combined, U.S. banks and savings and loan associations earned $145.2 billion. Of course, at this point in the credit cycle, the release of loan loss reserves continues to pad earnings. The 19 commercial banks (not holding companies) with total assets of $100 billion as of Dec. 30 saw their allowances for loan losses decline by $4.9 billion during the fourth quarter, according to data provided by HighlineFI, directly boosting bottom-line results. For all of 2011, the group of 19 released $28.3 billion in reserves.
- Citibank, NA -- the main banking subsidiary of Citigroup (C) -- saw its allowance for loan losses decline by $8.4 billion during 2011, adjusting for the merger of Citibank (South Dakota) N.A. into Citibank, NA, on July 1. Citibank, NA had $24.7 billion in loan loss reserves as of Dec. 30.
- Bank of America (BAC) subsidiary FIA Card Services, NA released $7.4 billion in loan loss reserves during 2011. Meanwhile, the company's larger subsidiary Bank of America, NA, released only $542.5 million in reserves during 2011, as the subsidiary was saddled with problem mortgage loans.
- Wells Fargo Bank, NA -- the main banking subsidiary of Wells Fargo (WFC) -- released $3.3 billion in reserves. The holding company's returns on average assets (ROA) have ranged from 1.11% to 1.27% over the past five quarters, for the steadiest and strongest performance among the "big four" U.S. bank holding companies.
- JPMorgan Chase's (JPM) main banking subsidiary JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA, released only $928 million in reserves during 2011. The company's smaller Chase Bank USA, NA subsidiary saw its allowance for loan losses declined by $2.4 billion during 2011.
In a hopeful sign for the industry, the FDIC said that aggregate loan balances had posted their "largest real growth in four years," as loan balances grew by $130.1 billion, or 108%, during the fourth quarter, for the third consecutive quarter of industry loan growth. -- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla. To contact the writer, click here: Philip van Doorn. To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/PhilipvanDoorn.