South Carolina had five fewer banks at the end of 2012 than a year earlier, but the industry continued to show more signs of a sustained recovery.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said in a report today that the lenders it insures in the state earned $176 million in the fourth quarter compared to $2 million in the last three months of 2011. It was the biggest combined profit for that period since the close of 2007, when the last recession began.

About 77 percent of banks in the state posted higher year-over-year earnings in the 2012 fourth quarter, compared to 55 percent the previous year.

Also, bad loans and other assets classified as “nonperforming” continued to edge lower, totaling 4.09 percent of all assets. That figure was 5.2 percent in the last three months of 2011.

South Carolina had 71 FDIC-insured banks at the end of 2012, down from 76 a year earlier. But the number of employees working in the industry statewide increased almost 5 percent to about 9,400.

The new FDIC figures are fresh evidence of the industry’s gradual recovery more than four years after the financial crisis. Nationally, the agency said profits at all U.S. banks jumped almost 37 percent to $34.7 billion from October through December, reaching the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2006.

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

Loans increased 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter. The number of banks on the FDIC’s confidential “problem” list fell to 651 from 694. For all of 2012, bank earnings rose 19.3 percent to $141.3 billion, the second-highest annual level ever.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.