Narrow loan margins mar Canada bank profit gains

Canada bank

Bank of Montreal topped estimates with its fourth- quarter profit on Tuesday, but the stock failed to gain traction as investors took a cautious view of its lending performance, while smaller rival Canadian Western Bank missed estimates and fell 3.5 percent.

Profit at BMO, Canada's fourth-largest bank, was boosted by a doubling of wholesale banking income and a gain on U.S. Loans that had previously been written down. BMO acquired Wisconsin

lender Marshall and Illsley (M&I) last year, more than doubling the branch count of its U.S. midwest bank. But the performance was marred by narrower interest margins on BMO's retail lending businesses, which drew attention in a

lending climate that analysts expect to slow due to a softening Canadian housing market.

BMO, the second of Canada's "big five" banks to report year-end results, earned C$1.1 billion ($1.11 billion), or C$1.59 a share in the fourth quarter ended Oct 31. That compared with a year-earlier profit of C$768 million, or C$1.11 a share.

Adjusted profit was C$1.65 a share, well ahead of analysts' expectations of a C$1.43 per share profit. "It was a sizeable beat, but when you scratch below the

surface you're looking for sources of earnings that you can feel confident can be replicated into the future and we didn't see too much of that," said Brad Smith, an analyst at Stonecap Securities.

The bank's shares ended the session up 0.6 percent at C$59.63, only slightly outperforming its Toronto-listed Canadian rivals, even as the bank said it planned to buy back up to 2.3 percent of its shares.

Canadian banks are bracing for an expected slowdown on domestic consumer lending growth as a cooling housing market, combined with concerns about record Canadian debt loads, prompt more caution among borrowers.

Loan volume at BMO's flagship Canadian retail bank grew by about 8 percent year-over-year, but interest margins narrowed to 2.67 percent from 2.88 percent, as loans were renewed at current rock-bottom interest rates.

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