Not so long ago, the efficiency ratio was regarded as an obscure measure of bank performance. But with the industry's sights set on cutting costs, and the ever-present need to satisfy Wall Street, more and more banking companies are including the ratio of noninterest expense per dollar of revenue in annual and quarterly reports.

But some analysts are saying a rise in the efficiency ratio is not necessarily a bad thing - if it reflects prudent investments that will generate strong revenue growth. That in turn, of course, will eventually drive the ratio down again.

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