Buildings in financial district in downtown Toronto, Canada
© Roxana Gonzalez Leyva / 123RF Stock Photo

Canada’s biggest banks delivered a mix of second-quarter earnings beats and misses, but still collectively generated roughly $12 billion in profits.

Net income across the Big Six lenders in the quarter ended April 30 was up approximately 7% compared with one year ago, or up roughly 5% on an adjusted basis.

While domestic loan growth has generally slowed after regulations aimed at reining in mortgage lending were introduced last year, it was better than expected and banks with international businesses got a boost yet again this quarter, analysts say.

Meanwhile, capital markets activity—while down overall—also exceeded expectations, they added.

“They did OK,” said Meny Grauman, an analyst with Cormark Securities in Toronto. “They continued to deliver good results, but not spectacular results. And there were definitely enough black marks in the results to continue to fuel questions about just how strong performance is going to be heading into the future.”

National Bank was the last of the group to report its second-quarter earnings on Thursday, hiking its dividend as it delivered a roughly 2% increase in net income fuelled by strength in Quebec. The lender reported a 9% uptick in profits from its personal and commercial banking arm, as well as growth in U.S. specialty finance and international and wealth management. However, its earnings were hampered by a slowdown in financial markets and missed analyst estimates.

National Bank’s chief executive Louis Vachon said the lender had a “solid” showing in its second quarter.

“Our performance was driven by positive momentum in our businesses, disciplined cost management and strong credit quality… The economic backdrop remains favourable in Canada and we continue to benefit from the strength and diversification of the Quebec economy,” he told analysts on a conference call Thursday.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce kicked off earnings season last week with a 2.2% rise in net income, but missed analyst estimates as sluggish loan growth offset its gains from capital markets and U.S. commercial banking.

“CIBC was clearly the weakest of the banks,” said Grauman.

Toronto-Dominion Bank, meanwhile, was viewed as delivering the most robust results, beating market expectations with strong growth in its retail operations both at home and south of the border.

Royal Bank of Canada posted better-than-expected quarterly earnings with a 7% bump in profits, compared with a year ago, fuelled by loan growth and higher interest rates.

Both the Bank of Montreal and Bank of Nova Scotia this week said their quarterly profits rose, but earnings came in lower than investors anticipated due to some non-recurring items.

BMO’s Canada and U.S. businesses were solid, but severance costs in its capital markets division—totalling $120 million before taxes—resulted in an earnings miss. The severance costs, which the lender said was aimed at aligning its resources with the current market environment, is expected to deliver millions in annual cost savings going forward.

Scotiabank’s international business, particularly in Latin America, again offered strong contributions but a surge of provisions for credit losses in connection with a flurry of recent acquisitions, as required under accounting rules, ate into its results.

With the exception of National Bank, Canada’s biggest lenders saw provisions for credit losses—or money set aside for bad loans—rise this quarter compared with a year ago, to varying degrees.

Scotiabank saw the biggest jump, followed by RBC at 55%, CIBC at 20%, TD at 14% and BMO at 10%.

These increases come as the U.S. portfolio manager featured in The Big Short, Steve Eisman, recently reiterated his bet against the country’s biggest lenders, noting that Canada hasn’t had a credit cycle in nearly three decades. A Veritas analyst also urged investors earlier this year to reduce exposure to the Canadian banks ahead of an “acceleration of credit losses.”

Some of the upswing in loan loss provisions in the latest quarter can be attributed to new accounting standards, analysts say. IFRS 9, which was implemented last year, increases the emphasis on banks’ expected losses over the life of a loan, and in turn introduces more volatility to the measure.

Overall, credit remains “very solid,” said James Shanahan, an analyst with Edward Jones, based in St. Louis.

“What we’ve seen is some lumpiness, and certainly in the utility, and energy sector, with perhaps a few other little pockets of weakness,” he said.

The outlook for the rest of the 2019 financial year, however, also has some clouds ahead.

CIBC pointed towards “relatively flat” total year-over-year earnings in 2019, lowering its previous guidance.

Other lenders signalled they would be able to hit their medium-term earnings per share targets, but largely at the lower end of the range, said Grauman.

What will be key is the banks’ ability to manage expenses, while still protecting the bottom line and investing in the future, analysts say.

“It’s going to be hard to see how any bank can get to double-digit EPS growth in 2019, that’s going to be very challenging,” Grauman said.