Banks' fourth-quarter earnings down 7.3%

U.S. banks' earnings dropped 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier as a few big banks had increased costs to settle legal cases and the industry had declines in income from the mortgage business. The data issued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. showed a reversal of the trend of rising earnings as the industry has recovered from the financial crisis. The FDIC reported that U.S. banks earned $36.9 billion in the October-December period, down from $39.8 billion a year ago. Overall, growth in lending helped boost revenue at most banks. Sixty-one percent of banks reported an increase in profit in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, and only 9.4 percent of banks were unprofitable.

JPMorgan Chase to close 300 branches

JPMorgan Chase & Co. plans to close 300 bank branches over the next two years, about 5 percent of the total, as more customers move online and the bank seeks to cut costs. The closings are part of a $1.4 billion cost-cutting plan the bank announced for this year. The latest developments were revealed during the bank's annual investor day conference. Online and mobile banking have become increasingly popular, and that trend is expected to continue. The shift online has begun to make brick-and-mortar branches staffed full of tellers less necessary and, frankly, expensive. Tellers handled only 42 percent of all bank deposits last year, according to JPMorgan, down from 90 percent in 2007.

Consumer confidence dips but remains high

U.S. consumers are feeling a bit less confident this month, but their spirits are still at the highest levels since before the Great Recession. The Conference Board reported that its consumer confidence index dropped this month to 96.4 from a revised 103.8 in January. The February and January readings are the highest since before the recession officially started in December 2007. Consumers are modestly less confident about current economic conditions and considerably less confident about the next six months. They are slightly more likely to say jobs are "hard to get" than they were in January. A year ago, the consumer confidence index was a much lower 78.3. The rising confidence over the past year reflects in part a stronger job market.

New chief takes over at Sony's movie studio

Former 20th Century Fox chief Tom Rothman has been named chairman of Sony's motion picture group, replacing Amy Pascal as studio head and effectively concluding Sony's shake-up following the damaging hacking scandal. Sony Pictures co-chairman and chief executive Michael Lynton announced Rothman's promotion Tuesday. Since late 2013, Rothman has been running the rejuvenated TriStar Productions at Sony. In more than a decade running Fox Filmed Entertainment, Rothman oversaw the two biggest box-office grossers ever: "Avatar" and "Titanic." He is known for both budget-consciousness and a deep passion for movies, even hosting screenings of classic films on the Fox Movie Channel.

Reddit, Google to crack down on nudity

Reddit and Google are taking a tougher stance against nudity to prevent their services from turning into online peep shows. Social-networking and news site Reddit says it will remove photos, videos and links with explicit content if the person in the image hasn't given permission for it to be posted. Google Inc., the Internet's most powerful company, is going to ban most nude photos and video from publicly accessible sites on its popular Blogger service. The crackdown marks a shift in attitude for two services that have traditionally been freewheeling forums where users could literally let it all hang out.

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