December 7, 2011 / 6:03 PM / in 6 years

Laurentian Bank profit falls but tops estimates

(Reuters) - Laurentian Bank of Canada (LB.TO) reported a 12 percent fall in fourth-quarter profit, but the result topped estimates and investors drove its shares higher on Wednesday.

Laurentian, Canada’s No. 7 bank by assets, also raised its quarterly dividend for the second time this year.

The bank earned C$28.6 million ($28.3 million), or C$1.06 per share, for the fourth quarter, ended October 31. That was down from a year-before profit of C$32.5 million, or C$1.24 a share.

Excluding integration costs from its recent acquisition of the MRS group of asset management companies, the bank earned C$1.31 a share. That topped analysts’ expectations of a C$1.20 a share profit.

National Bank Financial analyst Shubha Khan said the profit beat was due largely to lower loan costs than expected.

“The results were quite positive in the context of a bank that we feel faces tougher constraints on loan growth than peers,” he said in a note.

Montreal-based Laurentian, which operates almost exclusively in the province of Quebec, took an C$8.2 million charge related to its September acquisition of MRS Companies - a group of four financial management firms with about C$850 million in assets - from IGM Financial (IGM.TO).

Revenue fell 1.4 percent to C$187.4 million. For the full year, revenue rose 2 percent, missing the bank’s target of at least 5 percent growth.

Loan volumes grew by 8 percent in the quarter, but interest margins narrowed, meaning the bank earned less on the loans.

The results followed generally stronger than expected reports from Canada’s five-biggest banks over the past week, although market reaction has been mixed with the 2012 banking outlook murky and the European debt crisis roiling markets.

Analysts forecast a difficult year ahead as interest margins are expected to stay narrow, while the uncertainty surrounding the European debt crisis could threaten market-related income.

Laurentian raised its quarterly dividend by 3 Canadian cents to 45 Canadian cents a share.

Shares of the bank were up 2.1 percent at C$44.49, the strongest performer in the S&P/TSX financial index. .SPTTFS

($1=$1.01 Canadian)

Reporting By Cameron French, additional reporting by Maneesha Tiwari in Bangalore; editing by Rob Wilson

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