Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Q3 surprises at 2 major banks

BMO, Scotiabank able to raise dividends

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TORONTO -- Two of Canada's biggest banks surprised analysts Tuesday with stronger-than-expected third-quarter earnings and dividend boosts.

But the earnings increase at the Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) was largely due to gains at its U.S. operations and a decline in provision for credit losses, while at Scotiabank (TSX:BNS), the sale of its Toronto headquarters accounted for the lion's share of double-digit growth.

The first two Canadian banks to report third-quarter earnings -- the rest release results Thursday -- have also beat expectations because analysts aren't looking for much growth in the current global economic climate.

And while Canadian banks have outperformed their peers during this period of uncertainty, investors should brace themselves for relatively slow growth ahead, as the global economy continues to lurch along, said Craig Fehr, Canadian markets specialist at Edward Jones in St. Louis.

"What you see is they beat the numbers, (but) expectations were relatively subdued," he said.

"If you look at year-on-year growth, it's around the lowest levels that we have seen from them in some time."

BMO raised its quarterly dividend for the first time since 2007 -- a bump of two cents to 72 cents per share -- as it posted a 37 per cent increase in profits.

"This was much sooner than we had been anticipating," said Barclays Capital analyst John Aiken.

Scotiabank lifted its dividend by two cents to 57 cents per share while its profits grew by 57 per cent -- helped by a $614-million after-tax gain from the sale of its downtown Toronto headquarters, Scotia Plaza. Scotia also boosted its dividend in March.

Net income at BMO was $970 million or $1.42 per share, an increase from $708 million, or $1.09 per share, a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, earnings of $1.01 billion, or $1.49 per share, beat analyst expectations by 10 cents a share. The results were largely boosted by a 34 per cent jump at its U.S. operations, as well as from a $129-million decline in adjusted provisions for credit losses to $116 million.

Revenue increased to $3.88 billion from $3.32 billion.

At Scotiabank, net income came in at $2.05 billion, or $1.69 per share, up from $1.3 billion, or $1.10 per share, a year ago. Scotiabank's adjusted income was $1.22 per share, while analysts had expected earnings of $1.19 per share.

Revenue increased to $5.51 billion from $4.3 billion.

While much of BMO's improvement came from its decreased provisions for bad loans, Scotiabank, which recently conducted a review of potential fallout from the debt crisis in Europe, decided to set aside more money for bad loans in case the crisis spreads.

Scotia's PCLs increased to $402 million, up $152 million from a year earlier.

"We've done a series of stress tests over a long period of time now in various forms and concluded that there's a possibility that there could be an impact of contagion and that contagion would have an impact on the various business lines," said Rob Pitfield, Scotia's chief risk officer.

The slower economic environment has left the banks to compete fiercely to attract new mortgage customers and other new loans as the consumer-lending market tightens.

Frank Techar, BMO president and CEO for personal and commercial banking Canada, said competitive pressures continue to impact the company's bottom line. "We saw one element of our margin compression this quarter was the competitive dynamic, and our expectation is that that's going to continue, but I'm not seeing an acceleration of that, or at least we didn't in Q3."

Scotiabank was expected to perform better than most of its peers because of its international operations.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2012 B5

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