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The fat years: the structure and profitability of the US banking sector in the pre-crisis period


  • Fiona Tregenna


Bank profitability in the USA was extremely high in the pre-crisis period, yet this did not prevent the current crisis. It has become clear that these profits were on shaky grounds and also that bank profits were not used to buttress banks' capital bases. This paper analyses the effects of structure on profitability from 1994 to 2005. Bank-level panel data are used to test the effects of concentration, market power, bank size and operational efficiency on profitability. Efficiency is not found to be a strong determinant of profitability, suggesting that banks' high profits during this period were not 'earned' through efficient performance. Robust evidence is found that concentration increases bank profitability. This holds even when the largest banks are excluded from the sample, suggesting that the relationship between concentration and profitability acts in a generalised structural way and that the higher profits arising from concentration are at the expense of the rest of the economy. The analysis points to various policy implications relevant to the current crisis, in particular in terms of the legitimacy of expectations of the restoration of pre-crisis profit rates and the need for much stronger regulation of the banking sector, especially in terms of the structure of the sector, pricing behaviour and use of profits. Copyright The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Cambridge Political Economy Society. All rights reserved., Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Fiona Tregenna, 2009. "The fat years: the structure and profitability of the US banking sector in the pre-crisis period," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 33(4), pages 609-632, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:33:y:2009:i:4:p:609-632

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