National Bank reports Q1 profit that tops expectations

February 24, 2021 | Last updated on February 24, 2021
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National Bank of Canada topped expectations as it reported its first-quarter profit rose more than 20% compared with a year ago, boosted by growth across its business.

Profits were up 8% year-over-year in the personal and commercial banking business, up 20% in the wealth management business, up 37% in the financial markets business, and up 60% in the U.S. specialty finance and international business, the Montreal-based bank said in its quarterly report on Wednesday.

Shares of National Bank’s stock rose more than 4% by midday Wednesday.

Provisions for credit losses totalled $81 million, down from $89 million a year earlier. But chief executive Louis Vachon said in a statement that the bank is still maintaining “significant reserves for credit losses.”

The bank’s quarterly report noted that while a number of its Covid-19 relief programs wrapped up at the end of 2020, there are still special loans with government guarantees. A presentation by the bank said that only about 3.5% of its total gross loans were in the industries most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, including car dealerships and auto manufacturing, stores, hotels, restaurants, air transportation and commercial real estate.

The presentation also said that National Bank has cut its outstanding loans in the oil and gas production and services sectors over the years.

National Bank is one of four big Canadian lenders this week to report better-than-expected profit growth during the latest quarter, alongside BMO, RBC and Scotiabank.

Overall, National Bank earned net income of $761 million or $2.15 per diluted share for the quarter ended Jan. 31, up from $610 million or $1.67 per diluted share a year ago.

Excluding specified items, National Bank says it earned $2.15 per diluted share, up from $1.70 per diluted share a year ago. Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of $1.71 per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

Maria-Gabriella Khoury, senior vice-president covering North American financial institutions at DBRS Morningstar, said that National Bank was among the strongest big Canadian banks to report quarterly results so far.

“The results were very strong across all its segments, both in Canada and abroad,” said Khoury in an interview. “Mortgages seemed resilient, particularly in Quebec…. The Quebec mortgage market has been stable and trending upward, and steadily growing — not seeing the big price volatility that Toronto and Vancouver see.”