Canada’s six biggest banks - Toronto-Dominion Bank (NYSE:TD), Royal Bank of Canada (NYSE:RY), Bank of Nova Scotia (NYSE:BNS), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (NYSE:CM), Bank of Montreal (NYSE:BMO) and National Bank of Canada (OTCPK:NTIOF) - had their outlooks cut to negative from stable by Standard & Poor’s because of regulatory changes that could affect bondholders.
S&P says the outlook revision reflects its "expectation of reduced potential for extraordinary government support arising from implementation of the proposed new elements of the resolution framework for Canadian banks."
Affirming the ratings of Canada's largest banks, Moody's cuts their outlook from stable to negative, thanks to the government's plans to implement a "bail-in" regime (i.e., creditors to take a haircut) for systemically important lenders.
"The government's intentions are clear, and if a legislative framework permitting bail-in can be implemented, it will likely be negative for creditors," says David Beattie from Moody's.
"The fact that these hikes always seem to be on the horizon but never get closer makes them a difficult catalyst on which to rely," says CIBC's Robert Sedran in a cautious note about the Canadian banks. Sedran had assumed net interest margins would stabilize in fiscal 2014, but it now looks like any BoC rate hikes may not come until 2015.
With FQ4 earnings for the Big Six coming up, Sedran is expecting sequential declines in EPS, with the exception being TD Bank thanks to a big insurance-related charge in FQ3. Analyst forecasts for average Y/Y earnings growth is 8.3%
The rest of the Big Six: Scotiabank (BNS), Bank of Montreal (BMO), CIBC (CM), Royal Bank (RY), National Bank (NTIOF).
The lenders have a long history of boosting dividends as a sign of financial health and to please their income-hungry investors, but only the two smallest - Imperial Bank (CM) and National Bank (NTIOF.PK) - hiked payouts last quarter. The other of the "Big 6" - RBC (RY), TD Bank, Scotiabank (BNS), and BMO - failed to raise their dividends after results either just matched or fell short of estimates.
TD Bank has the biggest expectations, about a 5% hike, while the others are expected in the 2-4% range. Bank of Montreal could be the exception, with it's own financial services analyst John Reucassel suggesting no increase in the dividend, but instead a return of capital through the repurchase of 4M shares.
Banks results are expected to be weighed down by increases in loan-loss provisions thanks to a moderating housing market.
A more severe-than-anticipated downturn in the housing market could pressure the banks' risk-weighted assets and regulatory capital ratios, says Fitch, noting the pro-cyclical nature of Basel measures could exacerbate the effect of losses on residential mortgages.
It's the same old story - Soros calls it reflexivity - in which rising home prices give the appearance of low LTV levels and boost capital ratios. The whole process works in reverse should home prices decline. The pressure on capital ratios will come at the same time rising credit losses hit earnings.
Fitch does note the banks appear to be in good shape to withstand just a moderate housing price shock.
Six Canadian banks get a one-notch downgrade from Moody's as high levels of consumer debt and bubbly housing prices leave the lenders "more vulnerable than in the past." The agency also notes banks' reliance on "confidence-sensitive wholesale funding, which is obscured by limited public disclosure." Among those cut: BMO, BNS, CM, TD.
Forget bank of the year, how about banking system of the year? Canadian lenders buck the global trend of pay cuts, Royal Bank of Canada (RY) and National Bank (NTIOF.PK) leading the way with an 11% jump in bonus pools. Scotiabank (BNS), TD Bank, and Bank of Montreal (BMO) also show increases, but Imperial Bank (CM) sees a reduction in incentive pay.
The Canadian banking sector gets put on review for a downgrade by Moody's. "These firms face challenges not fully captured in their current ratings ... high consumer debt levels, elevated housing prices, macroeconomic risks, capital markets activities." The agencies get rapped for being behind the curve, but a review of the universally-loved Canadian banks is anything but that. Included: BMO, BNS, CM, TD.
S&P cuts the outlook of seven Canadian financials to negative, based largely on a "prolonged run-up in housing prices and consumer indebtedness" in the country. The ratings service did affirm the ratings of the institutions: Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS), Royal Bank of Canada (RY), Toronto-Dominion (TD), Central 1 Credit Union, National Bank of Canada (NTIOF.PK), Laurentian Bank of Canada and Home Capital Group.
Investors used to routine double-digit profit gains at Canadian banks may need to prepare for at least a flattening in growth trends. "What we're seeing here is the early indication of (a) domestic consumer lending slowdown," says Barclays' John Aiken. "Loan growth simply will not be the big tailwind (as it's been) for the Big Six in the last decade," says portfolio manager Todd Johnson.
Canadian lenders dominate Bloomberg's list of the world strongest banks, placing 6 in the top 22. There may have been more, except the country ran out of banks of large enough scope. Counter-cyclical regulatory policy helps, as banks are usually told to tighten up when times are good, not after the crash.
Barclays' John Aiken downgrades the Canadian financial services sector to neutral, expecting domestic and global headwinds to cut into earnings growth. "The steam is dissipating from the Canadian economic engine, with greater downside risk (than forecast)," he writes. Among the individual names cut: BMO, BNS, CM, MFC, RY, SLF, TD.
The rare sight of a large North American bank increasing its dividend is expected to occur tomorrow when National Bank of Canada (NTIOF.PK) announces its earnings. This may set the stage for Canada's largest banks, Royal Bank of Canada (RY) and Toronto-Dominion (TD), to raise their dividends next year.