Scotiabank CEO sees Canadian housing slowdown, not crash

Tue Apr 9, 2013 2:37pm EDT

* CEO says delinquencies up, but soft landing on the way

* Data on Tuesday showed housing starts higher in March

* Heir apparent Porter says retail/wholesale mix appropriate

By Cameron French

TORONTO, April 9 (Reuters) - Bank of Nova Scotia Chief Executive Rick Waugh said on Tuesday that mortgage delinquencies have risen at Canada's third-biggest bank, but that he does not foresee a U.S.-style housing crash.

"We still anticipate what I would call in terms of housing, a soft landing, and all the metrics which we watch daily confirm that," Waugh told the bank's annual general meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

His comments, part of an answer to a shareholder question about risks for the bank from the domestic housing market, came as data showed Canadian housing starts edged higher in March, offering some reassurance that the housing market is cooling rather than crashing.

Waugh said the rate of late payments at the bank has picked up, but said it anticipates no significant losses.

"Our delinquency rates with our customers are showing slightly elevated, but not significant, rises, and are well under control," he said.

Scotiabank, the No. 3 bank in Canada by market capitalization, is the most internationally focused of the country's banks, with operations in about 50 countries. But it still generates much of its income domestically and is heavily dependent on mortgage lending.

Canada's formerly hot housing market has begun to lose steam over the past year after the Conservative government, fearing the possibility of a property bubble, tightened mortgage rules.

While the decline in activity has been modest so far and prices have held steady in most markets, some point to Canadian consumers' record-high debt-to-income levels as a warning of a potential crash.

EYE ON CEO SUCCESSION

The meeting may be the last for Waugh as CEO. Former international banking head Brian Porter is widely expected to succeed him in the near future after being named president in October.

Porter told shareholders the bank, which has made several international acquisitions since the 2008 financial crisis, is continuing to build its international retail banking footprint.

He said Scotiabank also planned to fill out its wholesale banking operations, which include corporate banking, trading and advising on mergers and acquisitions.

"There is tremendous potential as we expand our wholesale operations within our footprint in Latin America and Asia," he said.

But he stressed the bank felt its existing mix of wholesale and retail banking was appropriate. Wholesale banking income is seen as more volatile, as it depends heavily on financial market performance.

Last year, Scotiabank's global banking and markets division produced 24 percent of its net income, while its domestic and international retail banking divisions produced 58 percent of income. Scotiabank's wealth management division earned the remaining 18 percent.

Scotiabank shares were up 0.8 percent at C$57.47 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday afternoon, moving roughly in line with the S&P/TSX financials sector.

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