Canada banks stable, but EPS growth to slow: Fitch

Tue Jan 31, 2012 4:17pm EST
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's banks should expect earnings growth to slow this year compared with 2011, but the sector should continue to outperform its international peers, debt ratings agency Fitch said on Tuesday.

In a report, Fitch said the banks' earnings deteriorated in late 2011 due to slowing loan growth, unpredictable capital markets revenue, and narrow lending margins due to low interest rates.

"The deceleration in earnings growth started in 2011 is likely to continue in 2012," it said.

The agency maintained a "stable" rating on the sector, but highlighted risks from the European debt crisis, as well as record high consumer debt levels in Canada that raise the possibility of a spike in loan delinquencies, which could undermine the housing sector.

"Should delinquencies in the domestic retail loan book increase beyond expectations, the ratings could come under pressure," Fitch said.

Such a situation could be triggered by a sharp rise in unemployment, Fitch said, but added that the chances of such a shock, while higher than a year ago, are low.

Indeed, while the outlook may have deteriorated for the banks, their position of strength relative to global rivals seems secure, the agency said.

Canadian banks emerged from the 2008 financial crisis in strong shape, and have taken advantage of the weakness among global rivals by buying up distressed assets cast off by U.S. and European banks.

As a result, lenders such as Toronto-Dominion (TD.TO: Quote), Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO: Quote), and Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO: Quote) enjoy a much higher profile than they did a few years ago.   Continued...