Profits of US banks jumped almost 37% in the three months from October to December, reaching the highest level in six years as banks continued to step up lending.

The figures are fresh evidence of the US banking industry's sustained recovery more than four years after the financial crisis.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp said today that banks earned $34.7 billion in the quarter, the highest since the fourth quarter of 2006.

The agency also said that banks posted reduced losses on loans in the fourth quarter and set aside almost 25% less to cover potential losses than in the final quarter of 2011.

Loans increased 1.7% in the fourth quarter, while the number of banks on the FDIC's "problem" list fell to 651 from 694.

For all of 2012, bank earnings rose 19.3% to $141.3 billion, the second-highest annual level ever.