UPDATE 5-Bank of Montreal profit drops on costs to cut 5% of workforce

(Updates share price)

Dec 3 (Reuters) - Bank of Montreal reported a drop in fourth-quarter net profit on Tuesday, driven by severance costs to cut about 5% of its workforce, even as earnings excluding the one-time items beat expectations.

BMO took a restructuring charge of C$357 million ($268.40 million), which also included some real-estate costs. The bank cut about 810 jobs, and is targeting a total reduction of 5%, or about 2,300 employees.

The cuts are part of Chief Executive Darryl White’s strategy to lower the bank’s efficiency ratio, which measures non-interest expenses as a percentage of revenues.

BMO’s adjusted efficiency ratio fell to 60% in the fourth quarter, from 62.2% a year earlier. That compares with ratios of under 55% at most of its biggest rivals, based on their most recent filings.

“It’s generally accepted that BMO is behind the others in this area,” said John Kinsey, portfolio manager at Caldwell Securities, adding that banks’ investments in technology portend more job cuts across the industry.

The efficiency initiatives will save BMO C$200 million in fiscal 2020, Chief Financial Officer Tom Flynn said on an analyst call.

BMO shares dropped 2.6% to C$98.10 in early afternoon trade in Toronto, set for their lowest close in about a month. The Toronto stock benchmark fell 0.6%.

“It is difficult for us to credit good expense control in the face of yet another restructuring charge from this bank,” Robert Sedran, an analyst at CIBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note.

BMO reported higher expenses in its Canadian and U.S. retail businesses, both of which scored earnings gains of about 6%, and its capital markets division, which posted a 9% profit drop. Net interest margin in its U.S. business dropped 11 basis points. The wealth management division’s adjusted earnings climbed 31%.

Credit Suisse analyst Mike Rizvanovic cited concerns about an unsustainable 16% growth in Canadian commercial loans and margin compression in the United States.

BMO set aside C$253 million for credit losses in the quarter ended Oct. 31, up 45% from a year earlier.

Net income fell to C$1.19 billion, or C$1.78 a share, from C$1.7 billion, or C$2.58, a year ago. Profit excluding one-off items rose to C$2.43 per share, beating estimates of C$2.41 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Adjusted earnings for fiscal 2019 rose 4% from the previous year. BMO also increased its quarterly dividend to C$1.06 from C$1.03. ($1 = 1.3301 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Nichola Saminather in Toronto and C Nivedita in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel, Chizu Nomiyama, Andrea Ricci and Richard Chang)