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Banks report higher provisions for bad loans, focus on expenses as economy slows

TORONTO — Several Canadian banks on Thursday reported fourth-quarter results that showed rising funds set aside for bad loans, and a heavy focus on expense management, as they prepared for the expected slower economy ahead.

TD Bank boosted provisions for potential loan losses to $878 million, RBC is up to $720 million and CIBC amounted to $541 million, while on Tuesday, Scotiabank said it had set aside $1.3 billion.

The rising provisions come as Statistics Canada reported Thursday that the economy shrank in the third quarter by 1.1 per cent on an annualized basis as high interest rates pressure consumers and businesses.

With the slowdown expected to continue, banks have been working to trim expenses to better manage through the trough, including reducing their workforce.

TD announced on Thursday it was cutting about three per cent of staff, or about 3,100 positions, and would take a $363-million restructuring charge this quarter and a similar one next quarter as it works through the reductions.

"This is a part of a broader restructuring program to streamline, and deliver efficiencies for the bank and then help create capacity to invest in future growth," said chief financial officer Kelvin Tran.

CIBC said it had steadily cut back throughout the year with staffing down about five per cent, or 2,300 jobs, from last year, and it took a $114 million charge in the fourth quarter as part of that.

RBC announced last quarter it was cutting upwards of three per cent of staff with the latest results showing personnel down 3,000 from the end of the second quarter.

At the same time, all three banks announced dividend increases on Thursday.

The rise in dividends came as the banks underlined their stable finances that they expect to weather the turbulence ahead.

"We've architected CIBC to deal with the economic environment that might come in 2024," said CIBC chief executive Victor Dodig on an earnings call.

"If things go slow, we'll manage accordingly. If things turn better, and there's a very good chance that we have this 'soft landing,' we will capitalize on that as well."

CIBC reported earnings of $1.48 billion or $1.53 per diluted share for the quarter ended Oct. 31 compared with a profit of nearly $1.19 billion or $1.26 per diluted share a year earlier.

RBC reported a fourth-quarter profit of $4.13 billion, or $2.90 per diluted share for the quarter ended Oct. 31, up from $3.88 billion or $2.74 per diluted share a year earlier.

TD reported earnings of $2.89 billion or $1.49 per diluted share for the quarter ended Oct. 31, down from a profit of $6.67 billion or $3.62 per diluted share a year earlier.

With inflation easing and the economy slowing, RBC chief executive Dave McKay said he expects interest rate hikes are likely done.

"Given the easing pricing pressures, we believe central banks have reached the end of the tightening cycle and will pivot to rate cuts in 2024, albeit rates are expected to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels," he said.

Like other banks, he said RBC had made preparations needed to see it through the year ahead.

"Whichever way the macro environment goes in '24, we're poised to do well in that environment."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2023.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CM; TSX:TD; TSX:RY)

Ian Bickis, The Canadian Press