Compiling a ranking of top-performing mid-tier bank and thrift holding companies isn't easy these days. This time last year, U.S. Banker published a ranking of the top 100 mid-tiers based on their three-year average return on equity and the plan was to do the same again this year. But 2009 was such a dismal year for so many banks that the editors decided to scrap the "top" label and just rank all 141 companies from best to worst.

According to data compiled by SNL Financial, more than one-third of the companies in the $2 billion- to $10 billion-asset class lost money—a combined $5.6 billion—in 2009 and many others were barely profitable. As a result, 43 of the companies on the list reported a negative ROE for 2007, 2008 and 2009 and many more were stuck in the low single digits. In all, just 29 companies posted double-digit returns for the three-year period, compared to 50 a year ago.

There were some bright spots. The biggest mover in the rankings was First Financial Bancorp, which climbed all the way to No. 1, from No. 60 last year, thanks largely to its acquisition of the failed Irwin Union Bank. Another bank that made a big splash was Burke & Herbert Bank and Trust Co., which a year ago was too small to be ranked among the mid-tiers. Now with $2 billion of assets, the privately held bank debuted at No. 5. Finally, it's worth noting that four companies—Westamerica Bancorporation, Southside Bancshares, Bank of the Ozarks, and TrustCo Bank Corp.—maintained their spots in the top 10, despite brutal economic conditions. High fives all around.

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