Profitability remains a challenge for banks and thrifts with less than $2 billion of assets. The median return on equity for publicly traded institutions in this size range is edging upward, from 3.48 percent in 2010, to 4.36 percent in 2011, and to 5.63 percent in 2012. But even with these gains, the ROE for the group still falls short of a cost of equity generally projected to be more than 9 percent.

Here we rank the best performers, based on their average return on equity over the past three years. These institutions are faring better than their overall peer group—the median ROE for the top 200 rose from 9.57 percent in 2010 to 10.01 percent in 2011 and to 10.15 in 2012—but the pressure on profitability is evident.

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