National bank profits increased during the first quarter of 1992, but overall performance continued to be dogged by problem loans, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency announced last week.

According to the comptroller's office, the percentage of noncurrent loans in bank portfolios remained "virtually flat at historically high levels."

Nevertheless, national banks had aggregate profits of $3.95 billion for the first quarter of 1992, up $1.98 billion from the fourth quarter of 1991. Profits were nearly $1 billion higher than for the same period in 1991, making them the largest reported quarterly profits since the second quarter of 1989.

Likewise, bank capital levels continued to increase. According to the comptroller's office, national banks added $3.8 billion to their equity capital by the end of March, for a total of $130.67 billion. Because total assets at national banks remained almost unchanged, the ratio of equity to assets increased to 6.6%, the highest ratio for any quarter in more than 10 years.

The comptroller's office also reported that total loan volume at national banks fell 1.4% to $1.214 trillion in the first quarter, the sixth consecutive quarter decline in the volume of outstanding loans.

At the same time, national bank holdings of investment securities have risen every year since 1984, a trend that continued into the first quarter of this year. Bank holdings of investment securities rose $12.49 billion in the quarter to reach $373 billion.

While total volume of loans has declined at national banks, troubled loans persist. The comptroller's office reported that though noncurrent loans fell $810 million in the quarter to $49.53 billion, the ratio of noncurrent loans to total loans stood at 4.08% at the end of March. The ratio had been 4.10 at the end of 1991.

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