WASHINGTON - Commercial bank profits rose 15.8%, to $71.7 billion, in 1999, setting the eighth consecutive annual earnings record and smashing 1998's record by nearly $10 billion, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Thursday.

Fourth-quarter earnings, at $17.8 billion, were up 20% from the fourth quarter of 1998. It was the third-best quarter ever, 8.2% below the record of $19.4 billion scored in the quarter that ended Sept. 30. The FDIC credited gains in noninterest income for the record-breaking 1999. Aided by robust gains in fee income, noninterest income rose 16.8% last year, to $144.5 billion. It accounted for 44.1% of commercial bank net operating revenues, up from 40.4% in 1998.

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