Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big banks rake in 7.8-B Q3 profit

-- 45% increase from a year ago -- Consumers maintain borrowing habits

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TORONTO -- Canada's biggest banks posted a stunning $7.8 billion of cumulative profit in the third quarter, as consumers maintained their borrowing habits and domestic banking results propped up weakness in some other divisions.

The performance left analysts' restrained predictions in the dust, marking an increase of 45 per cent from net income of $5.38 billion a year ago.

All five banks delivered a surprise boost to their dividends paid to shareholders. Royal Bank (TSX:RY) also boasted its profits rose 73 per cent to a new record high.

It was quite a contrast from concerns lending would subside during the period, while banks looked for ways to cut their costs. But several analysts say they're not convinced these bombastic results are sustainable into next year.

"Earnings from Canada face a lot of headwinds," said National Bank analyst Peter Routledge in an interview.

"I think people are starting to pull back on how much they borrow from banks, but nonetheless it certainly didn't start this quarter."

At least two recent studies have shown consumer debt still hasn't subsided -- despite repeated warnings from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney that interest rates will eventually rise, leaving some households hard pressed to meet borrowing obligations.

Last week, a report from TransUnion showed consumer debt is growing, mostly due to higher auto loans, while debt on cards and lines of credit was flat. Last month, consumer credit reporting agency Equifax Canada reported consumer indebtedness, excluding mortgage debt, grew 3.1 per cent year-over-year in the second quarter.

Canadians are taking on all-time high debt, said Tom Lewandowski, financial services analyst with Edward Jones in St. Louis.

"They're at levels that we (saw) here in the states prior to the financial crisis," he said in an interview.

"That leaves little lending capacity from the consumer's perspective going forward, so I think that has to led to lower consumer growth."

In the short term, for investors looking for reliable payouts, the banks still managed to impress.

On Thursday, Royal Bank's record profits amounted to $2.24 billion, or $1.47 per share. That compared with earnings of $1.29 billion or 83 cents per share in the year-earlier period.

The bank increased its dividend by five per cent to 60 cents per share, after already boosting it earlier this year -- by six per cent in the first quarter.

Barclays analyst John Aiken said in a note that Royal reported what was one of the strongest quarters, when compared to its peers.

"Royal managed to earn through a weaker capital-markets quarter on the back of a strong performance within wholesale lending," he wrote.

TD Bank (TSX:TD) delivered the biggest quarterly dividend increase, lifting it seven per cent. The payout increased five cents to 77 cents.

TD reported profits of $1.7 billion, or $1.78 per share, from $1.49 billion or $1.58 a share a year ago. Its domestic personal and commercial banking posted a record quarter, with reported net income of $864 million.

"While revenues held well in domestic banking, they are continuing to be increasingly crowded by expense escalations," said Brad Smith, senior financial services analyst at Stonecap Securities in a note.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (TSX:CM) profit rose by 42 per cent in the quarter to $841 million, or $2 per share, compared with $591 million, or $1.33 a share, for the same period last year.

The bank also announced a quarterly dividend increase of four cents or 4.4 per cent per share.

Earlier this week, Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) raised its dividend for the first time since 2007, boosting it 2.8 per cent to 72 cents a share, on profits of $970 million.

Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) increased its quarterly dividend 3.6 per cent to 57 cents per share on $2.05 billion of profit. Several divisions improved performance and the bank also benefitted from an after-tax gain of $614 million from the sale of its Bay Street headquarters, Scotia Plaza.

The National Bank of Canada didn't follow the dividend-increasing example of the country's large banks, even though the Quebec-based bank's profits grew by 13 per cent in the third quarter to $379 million.

The country's sixth-largest bank, which raised the quarterly payout three months ago, kept it steady at 79 cents per share, it said after markets closed Thursday.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2012 B4

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