The financial news coming out of Iowa banks continues to point to a strengthening economy, judging by reports on state and national banks released today by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.


Following a national trend, one of the attention grabbers in the report was the nearly $1.2 billion gain in loan activity in Iowa in the year ending Dec. 31, a sign that banks are making money and that they are receiving more requests for those dollars.


Somewhat anemic loan volumes has "been our chief concern," said John Sorensen, president and CEO of the Iowa Bankers Association. "We've been seeing profitability, but it has mostly been driven by improvements in asset quality."


But in the last year, loans as a percentage of assets has increased about 3 percent, with much of that increase probably occurring in commercial and industrial loans, Sorensen said.


"What we're most enthused about is we're starting to see the loan balances grow," he said.


That growth shows that banks are making money, have money to lend and people want to borrow it.


That also was the case on a national level, where overall lending increased by 1.6 percent, with commercial and industrial loans accounting for $53.4 billion of a total increase of $118.2 billion.


On the down side, loans for construction and development fell by $6.6 billion in the nation, and Sorensen said he suspects that those types of loans also declined in Iowa.


Nonetheless, the overall numbers were positive in Iowa and across the nation.


"I haven't dug into a lot of the details yet, but we've been saying that we think the banking industry in Iowa is healthy, and these numbers reflect that," Sorensen said.


Return on assets, a key measure of banking performance, increased to 1.16 percent, up from 1.06 in 2011 and 0.64 in 2010.


Total assets held by the 338 banks operating in Iowa increased to $72.6 billion, up from $68.6 billion in 2011. Net income increased to $808 million from $688 million over the year. Deposits increased to $59.4 billion from $55.6 billion in 2011 and $53.5 billion in 2010.


Nationally, banks reported aggregate earnings of $141.3 billion, a 19.3 percent improvement over 2011 and the second-highest ever reported by the industry after the $145.2 billion earned in 2006, according to the federal report.