Financial graphs analysis
© Potapova Valeriya / 123RF Stock Photo

National Bank of Canada raised its quarterly dividend 23% as it reported a fourth-quarter profit of $776 million, up from $492 million a year earlier.

The Montreal-based bank said Wednesday it will now pay a dividend of 87 cents per share, up from 71 cents per share. National Bank also said it plans to buy back up to seven million of its shares.

The announcement follows a decision last month by the federal banking regulator to lift restrictions put in place at the start of the pandemic that prevented federally regulated banks and insurers from raising dividends, buying back shares and raising executive compensation.

National Bank said its profit amounted to $2.19 per diluted share, up from $1.36 per diluted share in the same quarter last year. Revenue totalled $2.2 billion, up from $2 billion a year ago.

“The bank’s sustained performance reinforces our commitment to continue pursuing fitting strategies in terms of business mix, capital allocation, and risk management,” National Bank chief executive Laurent Ferreira said in a statement.

“We enter the new year on strong footing, well-positioned to generate solid growth across our business segments and deliver superior returns to our shareholders.”

Excluding specified items, National Bank said it earned $2.21 per diluted share, up from $1.69 per diluted share in the same quarter last year.

Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of $2.24 per diluted share, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

During the quarter, National Bank reversed $41 million in its provisions for credit losses, compared with the $110 million it set aside in the same quarter last year.

National Bank said its personal and commercial banking business earned $353 million its latest quarter, up from $249 million a year ago, while its wealth management business earned $165 million, up from $134 million in the same quarter last year.

In a Wednesday release, the bank said fourth-quarter total revenues grew mainly due to “an increase in fee-based revenues given growth in average assets under administration (AUA) and average assets under management (AUM) and given an increase in transaction volume.”

Fee-based revenues were $357 million, up from $281 million a year earlier, while AUA and AUM increased 28% and 34% over the same period, respectively.

The bank’s financial markets arm saw its profit hold steady compare with a year ago at $208 million, while its U.S. specialty finance and international business earned $129 million, up from $106 million.

For its full financial year, National Bank earned $3.2 billion or $8.96 per diluted share on $8.9 billion in revenue, compared with a profit of $2.1 billion or $5.70 per diluted share on $7.9 billion in revenue in the same period a year earlier.

In their 2021 election platform, the Liberals pledged to raise the corporate income tax rate for banks and insurers to 18% from 15% on all earnings above $1 billion. Those institutions also would have to contribute to a Canada Recovery Dividend.