Strong growth in noninterest income helped commercial banks achieve record earnings in the first quarter, but a surge in loan chargeoffs tainted the good news, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reported Thursday.

The banking industry earned $15.9 billion in the first quarter, up 10.1%, or $1.5 billion, from the year earlier. Compared with the fourth quarter of 1997, net income at the nation's 9,024 commercial banks was up 4.1%, or $621 million.

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