Could it get worse? Regrettably, yes, even after the nation's biggest banks went through historic collapses and consolidations in 2008, such as Wells Fargo & Co.'s takeover of Wachovia Corp.

For all banks, the outlook for earnings growth is dim because of light demand for loans from strong business customers and mounting expenses from bad loans made to marginal businesses during the boom.

For example, the combined operations of PNC Financial Services Group and the soon-to-be-acquired National City Corp. have one of the highest exposures to shaky commercial real estate among the nation's biggest banks, according to Citigroup Global Markets.

Worth watching next year is how banks that applied for investments from the U.S. Treasury, such as National Penn Bancshares Inc. and Harleysville National Corp., compare with those who kept their hands in their pockets, such as Beneficial Mutual Bancorp Inc. and Univest Corp. of Pennsylvania.      - Harold Brubaker