CIBC's push to speed up Canadian mortgage growth set to face hurdles

TORONTO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s (CIBC) efforts to speed up mortgage growth following a pullback two years ago is expected to face hurdles as bigger rivals maintain their hold on the market, and record-high debt levels weigh on borrowers, analysts and investors said.

The most domestically focused of Canada’s Big Five banks has said it aims for mortgage growth at the industry rate, between 4% and 5% according to analyst estimates, from a slight decline in 2019.

While CIBC has not put a timeframe on the plan, Chief Executive Officer Victor Dodig said at a conference last week that mortgage growth would look "more market-like" over 2020. [ ]

The bank declined to comment for this story.

“To catch up to peers in one year when you had flattish growth in the prior year, I just don’t see it happening,” said Scott Chan, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, adding 2% growth is more likely.

A 1% acceleration in CIBC’s lower-margin residential mortgage growth and a 1% slowdown in other higher-margin lending would lead to a 0.6% decline in earnings per share, Credit Suisse said in a note on Tuesday.

Canadian residential mortgages account for almost a third of CIBC’s total assets, compared with a quarter at bigger rival RBC. CIBC had 13% market share of Canadian mortgage market, compared with 19% for Royal Bank of Canada, the biggest lender, as of Oct. 31.

Bryden Teich, portfolio manager at Avenue Investment Management, said CIBC’s domestic focus is forcing it to get more aggressive on mortgages. “But I would be concerned about underwriting standards.”

CIBC has said it will meet industry mortgage prices but not undercut them, and that it will expand outside its traditional focus areas of Toronto and Vancouver, and add 10% more mobile mortgage advisers.

“To get to the target, they’ll have to price competitively, aggressively,” as rivals are not pulling back, Chan said.

CIBC’s guidance that operating expenses will grow at 4-5%, about double the industry average, this year, driven by its mortgage push, will also weigh on its performance, analysts said.

CIBC shares have risen 1.9% over the past year, underperforming the Canadian bank index’s 7.5% gain.

It began pulling back from rapid expansion in Canadian mortgages amid concerns about the Toronto and Vancouver housing markets, peaking at over 10% in 2016.

Robert Colangelo, an analyst at DBRS Morningstar, said CIBC appeared to bring little to table except “exactly what the other banks” have.

“It comes down to what they can do in terms of their value and offering for the clients,” he added. (Reporting By Nichola Saminather; Editing by Tom Brown)