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'Cautious optimism' on 2014: CIBC

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TORONTO -- Executives at CIBC say they're cautiously optimistic about what next year holds for the bank amid uncertainty about the direction of Canada's housing market and interest rates.

"Our outlook for 2014 is one of cautious optimism," chief executive Gerry McCaughey told analysts on a conference call Thursday as the bank reported a fourth-quarter profit of $836 million.

"The forecast for an improving economic and business environment is encouraging, somewhat offsetting an expected moderation in consumer-lending volumes as well as a cooling of the Canadian housing market."

McCaughey's outlook came as the bank wrapped up its financial year with a tepid four per cent growth over 2012, and a fourth quarter that was characterized by numerous smaller expenses. Included were charges for a rejig of its banking operations in the Caribbean and the marketing of its new credit card.

CIBC said net income fell two per cent to $836 million, a decrease from $852 million in the same period last year. On a per-share basis, the results improved to $2.05 from $2.02 a year ago.

The bank delivered adjusted earnings per share of $2.22, which was seven cents higher than analysts expected, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

Overall revenue held steady at $3.2 billion from $3.16 billion a year earlier.

National Bank analyst Peter Routledge said he considered the quarter generally "in line" with his expectations.

"They're showing strength in their retail and business banking line of business, which is almost two-thirds of the bank," he said.

One of the bigger surprises was CIBC's decision not to raise its dividend, something many had expected.

The bank's retail and business banking division earned $610 million in net income during the quarter, compared to $569 million in the same quarter a year ago. Revenue grew nearly four per cent to $2.1 billion.

The wealth-management division posted net income of $104 million, up from $84 million during the same quarter a year ago.

During the quarter, CIBC's results were impacted in part by a $39-million restructuring charge relating to FirstCaribbean International Bank.

"The restructuring is designed to reduce costs and to put a brake on the growth in costs," said Richard Nesbitt, chief operating officer of the bank.

"It still remains tough in a number of islands like Barbados and Bahamas, but we do expect revenues to start to increase over the next 12 to 18 months."

Nesbitt said the bank will cut its FirstCaribbean staff by about 10 per cent across the 17 islands where it has a presence.

Other expenses included a $24-million charge from the development and marketing of its Aventura travellers loyalty program and other changes related to a decision by rewards operator Aimia to pick TD Bank as the primary issuer of Visa credit cards for its flagship Aeroplan program.

CIBC also booked a $35-million impairment of an equity position tied to its U.S. leveraged finance portfolio.

Wholesale banking net income edged higher at $210 million.

For the year, the bank reported net income growth of three per cent to $3.4 billion compared to $3.34 billion in 2012.

Shares of CIBC closed down $1.23 or 1.37 per cent to $88.82 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2013 B6

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