Lead by money-center banks, the nation's 50 largest publicly traded banking companies boosted aggregate profitability to record levels in the third quarter.

A study by the American Banker and SNL Securities of Charlottesville, Va., of third-quarter earnings found that top banks capitalized on trading gains and credit quality improvements to deliver a weighted average return on assets of 1.2% on combined assets of $2.29 trillion. That is an increase of 8 basis points from the second quarter and 37 basis points from a year ago. (See table on page 5.)

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