Efficiency ratios have been worsening for two years, with a slump in noninterest income driving much of the deterioration.

The amount of money banks have to spend-on salaries, on rent for branches and back offices, on advertising and consultants and so on-for each dollar they earn is a key measure of performance. Over the past decade, growth in such expenses (which exclude amortization and impairment of intangible assets) has sometimes outpaced growth in net interest income, and sometimes lagged it.

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