Canadian Imperial Bank Sees U.S. Stocks as 'Asset Class of Choice'

| About: Canadian Imperial (CM)

For Canada’s banks, the last 10 years were all about U.S. retail growth. Now the scale is tipping in favor of international wealth management expansion.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (NYSE:CM) is the latest bank to take the plunge, ploughing $848 million in cash into American Century Investments. The bet is surely a way to keep up with the Big Six’s growing wealth management platforms, following deals like Scotia’s (NYSE:BNS) purchase of DundeeWealth for CDN$2.3 billion.

But it is also a play on the U.S. “I believe that U.S. equities are going to be the asset class of choice in the years to come,” CIBC executive officer Gerry McCaughey said on a conference call Friday.

That echoes the sentiments of Royal Bank of Canada (NYSE:RY), which wants to double down on U.S. wealth management after selling off its U.S. retail platform. “We would be interested in many pieces of wealth management, I think notably, asset management is an area that we have earmarked for growth in the United States,” James Westlake, RBC’s head of international banking and insurance, told Reuters last month.

But if the Canadian banks like the U.S. so much, why is JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) selling its stake in American Century to CIBC?

“Our interests have somewhat diverged,” said Jonathan Thomas, American Century’s CEO. Over the past few years, American Century has picked up more institutional assets, whereas JP Morgan has been ramping up on the retail side.

CIBC, on the other hand, likes that mix, and it’s also intrigued by American Century’s growth rate. While the U.S. wealth management industry is expected to grow assets by 2 to 2.5 percent annually, American Century is targeting 5 percent, net of market movements.

The recent numbers support that. Last year it raised $6.1 billion in net investments, the highest growth since 2000, and is already up $4 billion this year. However, some of that growth comes from the firm’s international strategy, leveraging its sales offices in London and Hong Kong.

Although CIBC is bullish on the U.S., McCaughey says he is content with where his bank stands in the U.S. after this deal. “While there are possibilities of further investments by us internationally, we are very satisfied with our U.S. position,” he said.