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RBC monitors coronavirus and rail blockades as it reports Q1 profit

TORONTO — Royal Bank of Canada is monitoring the recent, novel coronavirus outbreak and rail blockades across the country, but says it's too early to see the full impact of either yet.

Graeme Hepworth, the Toronto-based bank's chief risk officer, said Friday he is watching the new form of the coronavirus, which has spread to a handful of Canadians and tens of thousands more around the globe, because it exposes RBC to multiple dangers.

"First and foremost, it's just the health and safety of our employees and then ensuring that we have the operational continuity and resiliency to work through this period and work through a period where it could potentially get worse," he said. "And then we look at the financial side of it."

He noted RBC does not operate in Mainland China, so the bank has no direct exposure to the affects of the outbreak there, but the bank could feel the impact of "the Chinese consumer kind of disappearing for a period" and disruptions to supply chains because of China's prominence in manufacturing.

Hepworth said the bank is evaluating the sectors it thinks are most impacted and engaging with its clients around the issue, "but the reality is that this is too early, too soon to really have a view as to the real impact here."

"It's going to really depend on the duration of this and the severity going forward and right now, that's highly uncertain," he said. "We're not seeing any impacts in our portfolio at this point in time, so we are monitoring in potential."

Hepworth's outlook was much the same, when asked opponents to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, who have blocked rail lines in Ontario, Quebec and B.C., causing CN Rail to suspend service and Via Rail to cancel dozens of passenger trains.

"It's too uncertain and it's too early to provide any guidance as to how material that could be," he said, referring to potential impacts on the bank's second-quarter earnings, which are due in May.

His remarks, made on the company's first-quarter conference call, came as the bank raised its dividend and reported a profit of $3.5 billion for the period, which on ended Jan. 31.

The bank will now pay a quarterly dividend of $1.08 per share, up from its previous payment to shareholders of $1.05 per share.

RBC's profit amounted to $2.40 per diluted share for the quarter compared with a profit of nearly $3.2 billion or $2.15 per diluted share in the same quarter a year earlier.

The bank said its adjusted diluted cash earnings per share for the quarter amounted to $2.44.

Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit $2.31 per share, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

RBC attributed those results to record earnings in capital markets as well as strong earnings growth in its personal and commercial banking operations. It also saw growth in wealth management and insurance, partially offset by lower results in investor and treasury services.

"We had a great start to the year, delivering record quarterly earnings...We reported record results in Canadian banking and capital markets and very strong results in wealth capital management, despite interest rate headwinds, and a good quarter in insurance," RBC chief executive Dave McKay says. "Our results were driven by strong volume growth across our leading client franchises, lower provision for credit loss and prudent expense management."

SIA Wealth Management Inc.'s chief market strategist Colin Cieszynski said in a note to investors that he took such results as a sign that "Canadian bank earnings season is off to a positive start."

RBC was the first of Canada's big banks to report their earnings. TD Canada Trust, the Bank of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the National Bank of Canada will follow next week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RY, TSX:TD, TSX: BNS, TSX:CM, TSX: NA)

 

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press