* Profit beats estimates
* Wholesale banking income drives growth
* Shares end down slightly despite beat
* No guesses on when Bank of Guangzhou acquisition will close
* Canada’s No. 3 bank final Canadian bank to report
By Cameron French
Dec 7 (Reuters) - Bank of Nova Scotia capped off the fourth-quarter earnings season for Canadian banks with a slightly stronger than expected 31 percent profit gain on Friday, as strong wholesale banking income made up for more sluggish international growth.
Following the trend of most of its peers this quarter, profit gains were driven by trading and investment banking income, while domestic loan growth was steady despite worries that a cooling housing market will dry up demand.
The bank, Canada’s third-largest, earned C$1.52 billion ($1.54 billion), or C$1.18 a share in the fiscal fourth quarter ended Oct. 31. That compared with a year-before profit of C$1.16 billion, or 97 Canadian cents a share.
Excluding a charge for amortization of intangibles, the bank earned C$1.21, coming in slightly ahead of analysts’ expectations of a profit of C$1.18 a share.
The bank’s shares ended the session down 3 Canadian cents at C$55.53 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Toronto-based Scotiabank boasts operations in more than 50 countries, with the heaviest weighting in Latin America and a growing presence in Asia.
Scotiabank’s international consumer banking segment posted a 22 percent gain in profit to C$453 million, helped by the acquisition in January of Colombia’s Banco Colpatria.
Compared with the third quarter, however, international profit rose only 2.5 percent and net interest income retreated. The result was also little changed from the second quarter, raising concerns about growth in the bank’s most high-profile segment, said Barclays Capital analyst John Aiken.
“Ultimately, the investment thesis for Bank of Nova Scotia at 30,000 feet is growth in its international segment, and this has not happened for two quarters in a row,” he said.
The bank acknowledged in a statement that economic momentum in major emerging markets is moderating, but said those markets should remain the major drivers of global growth through next year and beyond.
Scotiabank has made dozens of small transactions in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the bulk of them international and valued at less than C$1 billion.
Speaking on a conference call, company officials said they plan to make more “tuck-in” acquisitions for the global wealth management division.
However, they could were unable to offer any hints as to when their much-delayed acquisition of a 20 percent stake in China’s Bank of Guangzhou would be finalized.
Scotiabank had initially expected to close the C$719 million deal last year, but the process has dragged on as the bank deals with multiple layers of government approval.
Brian Porter, who was head of the bank’s international banking division before taking over as president last month, noted the municipal government of Guangzhou recently changed, but said he believed the company was in good stead with the local regulator.
“These things take time in China and I can’t forecast whether it’s going to be Q2 or Q4, but we’re making headway,” he said.
Profit at the bank’s global banking and markets division, its wholesale banking unit formerly known as Scotia Capital, jumped 63 percent to C$396 million as trading and investment banking improved from a relatively weak result in the fourth quarter of 2011.
The Canadian banking segment earned C$481 million, up 15 percent, driven by an 8 percent rise in residential mortgages, and largely bucking the trend of narrower loan margins that pinched results at Scotiabank’s rivals.
The bank scored a coup in August when it won a bidding war for the Canadian online banking arm of Dutch lender ING Groep , adding C$40 billion in assets and C$30 billion in deposits in a segment where significant market-share gains are hard to come by.
Canadian banks expect to struggle to increase loan volumes in 2013 as Canada’s hot housing market has shown signs of cooling, while Canadians, who are already dealing with record personal debt levels, are expected to take a more cautious approach to borrowing.