WASHINGTON - Insured deposits surged 1.5% in the fourth quarter, and grew last year at their fastest rate since 1986, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Thursday.

In its Quarterly Banking Profile, the agency said that insured deposits rose by $185 billion last year, including a $73 billion increase in insured brokered deposits. FDIC analysts said that approximately half of the brokered deposit increase was caused by Merrill Lynch & Co.'s movement of monies from uninsured cash management accounts into insured deposits.

Merrill's movements accounted for more than 34% of insured deposit growth during the fourth quarter, and approximately 24% for the entire year, FDIC officials said.

Many in the banking industry have argued that Merrill's addition of funds could dilute the ratio of federal reserves to insured deposits below the statutory minimum of 1.25%, which would trigger industry-wide premiums.

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