Canada’s big banks are battling to keep a lid on rising costs that could eat into profits as they face pressure to keep growing revenue in the midst of mounting economic unease over the impact of inflation and rising interest rates.
On Friday, National Bank of Canada wrapped up a solid second-quarter earnings season for the country’s major banks with an 11-per-cent increase in profit, year over year. The Montreal-based bank’s revenue was up 9 per cent for the quarter ended April 30, with higher loan balances and fees as consumers and businesses spend and borrow more.
But the bank’s expenses were up 8 per cent as it hired staff, increased salaries and invested in technology.
Surging expenses leave banks with little margin for error if revenue growth slows. Though banks have churned out higher profits through most of the COVID-19 pandemic, and fared better than many companies in other sectors, they are not immune to the high inflation driving up prices.
Expenses spiked by 13 per cent at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in the quarter, compared with a year earlier, and by 5 per cent at Toronto-Dominion Bank, which included a 9-per-cent increase in costs in its Canadian retail banking unit.
Salaries are a major force pushing up expenses, as tight labour markets that have kept many consumers financially stable also create intense competition for talent. Investments by banks in technology to improve customer experiences and automate routine tasks, as well as resurgent travel and marketing spending as economies reopen, have also made it harder to restrain spending.
The impact from inflation “is fairly broad,” Hratch Panossian, CIBC’s chief financial officer, said in an interview. “You’re seeing impacts across various categories across the bank,” and the recent pressure that has put on the bank’s costs has “been a little bit higher than what we expected.”
The fight to retain employees is adding hundreds of millions of dollars to banks’ expenses, and the pressure is felt everywhere, from executive and technology roles to staff in branches, call centres and back offices.
In mid-April, TD announced it will give most of its non-executive employees a 3-per-cent pay raise in July, and RBC soon followed suit, boosting base pay for low-salaried staff. Last week, Bank of Montreal matched those raises, promising a 3-per-cent pay increase for certain salary tiers, according to CFO Tayfun Tuzun.
For TD, the base salary increases will cost an extra $290-million a year, CFO Kelvin Tran said Thursday.
“Salaries and benefits will go up, inflation is high. There are certain expenses that will go up naturally because of what’s happening around us,” said Raj Viswanathan, CFO of Bank of Nova Scotia, which reported a 3-per-cent rise in second-quarter costs. He predicted those costs will increase more rapidly in the coming quarters, “but we have a number of levers that we use in this bank” to control them.
Mr. Panossian said CIBC has “paced” some of its planned investments, “so we’ve already been reacting and we have the ability to react through the rest of the year.”
For now, loan balances are increasing at healthy rates even as demand for mortgages is expected to cool, credit-card spending is picking up, commercial lending is strong and central bank interest-rate increases are boosting profit margins on loans. “That is a good combination to be able to absorb this,” Ebrahim Poonawala, an analyst at Bank of America Securities Inc., said in an interview.
But if the economy falls into a downturn, as economists increasingly fear it could, “I don’t think … these banks have a lot of levers to pull in terms of absolute cost cuts,” Mr. Poonawala said.
“These are like giant ships. … None of this happens overnight,” he said. “When you’re doing these across-the-board [salary] increases, there is very little room to flex lower on expenses.”
On a call with analysts on Friday, National Bank CFO Marie Chantal Gingras said cost increases are “tied to our business growth.” But she said the bank is looking for areas to cut back as it has raised salaries to keep pace in “a highly competitive environment” and has boosted spending in an array of areas that include automation, cybersecurity and regulatory compliance.
“The team constantly works on identifying and realizing efficiencies in our expense base, especially in an inflationary context,” she said.
National Bank earned $893-million, or $2.55 a share, in the second quarter. That compared to $801-million, or $2.25 a share, in the same period last year. On average, analysts were expecting earnings of $2.27 a share, according to Refinitiv.
The bank raised its quarterly dividend by 5 cents, or 6 per cent, to 92 cents a share.
Profits rose across the banking sector in the fiscal second quarter, with four of six major banks beating analysts’ expectations by comfortable margins.
Royal Bank of Canada had the most success at containing costs in the quarter, reporting an increase of just 1 per cent, year over year. Yet the bank’s salaries rose 7 per cent from a year earlier, “representing nearly 40 per cent of the increase in our more controllable costs,” CFO Nadine Ahn said. Higher professional fees and technology costs accounted for another 30 per cent of increases, and marketing and travel for 20 per cent, she said.
One reason RBC was able to rein in second-quarter costs was the weaker performance of its capital markets division, where revenue fell 14 per cent from high levels last year. That provides a “natural, built-in hedge” because it means the bank is doling out less bonus pay to traders and investment bankers, chief executive officer Dave McKay said.
For the past two years, soaring capital markets revenues were “a big boon for positive operating leverage,” which is the industry term for revenue outpacing expenses, Mr. Poonawala said. But as frenzied activity in trading, IPOs and equity issuances has fallen off this year – with quarterly profit from capital markets falling 26 per cent at RBC and 20 per cent at BMO, for example – “you see that pain,” he said.
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Giga Texas appeared to be falling behind since it had difficulties ramping up production of the 4680 battery cell and structural battery pack, but we reported that last week that the factory ramped up production significantly with Tesla starting to build Model Y Long Range with 2170 cells at the plant.
Now Tesla is looking for Gigafactory Berlin to catch up, and it will reportedly shut down the factory for about two weeks in order to upgrade it.
According to BILD information, Tesla therefore wants to interrupt operations for two weeks starting next Monday. It is unclear how many of the 4,500 employees will be sent on vacation and how many technicians will remain to convert production.
The publication also says that the automaker will add a third shift and start producing electric motors at the factory instead of importing them from Gigafactory Shanghai:
According to employees, after the break in production, work should be carried out in three instead of two shifts. In addition, Tesla could then start manufacturing the drive in a neighboring hall.
While the upgrade could help, Gigafactory Berlin’s biggest bottleneck is reportedly its workforce.
Over the last few months, there have been many reports of Tesla having issues hiring and retaining employees. Some of them suggested that salaries have been a particular issue and the local union, IG Metall, was starting to get involved. But Tesla did increase salaries by 6% for many employees in order to address the concern.
It will require a significant hiring effort for Tesla to add a third shift at the plant after the factory restart later this month.
Canadian airlines and airports claimed top spots in flight delays over the July long weekend, notching more than nearly any other around the world.
Air Canada ranked No. 1 in delays on Saturday and Sunday that affected 700-plus trips in total, or about two-thirds of its flights, according to tracking service FlightAware. It was more than 14 percentage points above the three carriers tied for second place.
Jazz Aviation – a Halifax-based company that provides regional service for Air Canada – and the lower-cost Air Canada Rouge both saw 53 per cent of flights delayed, putting them in the No. 2 spot alongside Greek regional airline Olympic Air.
On Saturday, WestJet and budget subsidiary Swoop placed third and fourth at 55 per cent.
On the airport front, Toronto’s Pearson claimed the No. 2 spot Sunday after 53 per cent of departures were held up, below only Guangzhou’s main airport in China. Pearson beat out Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and Frankfurt Airport in Germany.
Montreal’s airport placed sixth Sunday at 43 per cent of takeoffs delayed, on par with London’s Heathrow, according to FlightAware figures.
Air Canada said last week it will cut more than 15 per cent of its summer schedule, nearly 10,000 flights in July and August, as the country’s aviation network sags under an overwhelming travel resurgence.
Bookended by statutory holidays in Canada and the U.S., the weekend saw scenes of long lines and luggage labyrinths flood social media as airports across the globe grappled with the start of peak travel season following two years of pent-up demand.
Passenger flow at Canadian airports is already at 2019 levels during peak times, though closer to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic volumes overall, experts say.
“This is going to be with us all summer,” said Helane Becker, an airline analyst for investment firm Cowen.
“Almost every airline encouraged people to retire early or take leaves. And those people that retired early maybe don’t want to come back to work,” she saidof airline employees.
“It’s hard to rebuild off those lows.”
Some pilots have not yet had their licences renewed, while positions with groundcrews and baggage handling remain unfilled – or quickly vacated – due to low wages and stressful work conditions, unions say.
Government agencies have been on a hiring spree for airport security and customs, with 900-plus new security screeners in place since April – though not all have clearance to work the scanners – according to the federal Transport Department.
“The airlines also used the pandemic to eliminate aircraft types from their fleet, and to ground and retire their oldest aircraft. It’s hard to bring these aircraft back once you park them without doing a lot of maintenance,” Becker added.
“As demand continues to surge, we’re basically looking at an inability for the airlines to easily accommodate it. And I think that’s true worldwide.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 4, 2022
Canadian businesses and consumers think the current era of high inflation will persist for longer than they’d previously hoped, according to two surveys from the Bank of Canada released Monday.
The two reports — known as the Business Outlook Survey and the Canadian Survey of Consumer Expectations — are the result of the central bank’s quarterly polling of Canadian businesses and consumers for their outlook on what’s happening on the ground in Canada’s economy.
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While the findings differed in a few ways, the dominant theme of both was inflation and the impact it is having on buying and selling, hiring and firing.
The main takeaway from the business survey was that most businesses are seeing higher sales than they were seeing earlier in the pandemic, as economic activity is returning to some sort of normal. But demand continues to outstrip supply across almost all types of businesses, which is both a factor of and a contributor to the high inflation currently plaguing the economy.
Nearly two-thirds of businesses told the central bank they are seeing labour shortages. Nearly half — 43 per cent — say they are experiencing bottlenecks in their supply chains, and they’re taking longer to resolve than previously anticipated.
Businesses expect Canada’s inflation rate to still be more than five per cent a year from now, and still more than four per cent two years out. But five years from now, the survey suggests they expect the inflation rate to come back to within the range the central bank targets, between one and three per cent.
It was a similar story on the consumer side. Long-term inflation expectations increased from 3.2 per cent to four per cent, while short-term expectations increased to 6.8 per cent, up from 5.1 per cent last quarter.
“Consumers clearly took notice of the recent [consumer price index] releases and the high prices for food and gasoline,” CIBC economists Andrew Grantham and Karyne Charbonneau said of the data. “Uncertainty around the evolution of inflation has increased.”
Wages set to increase
On the employment front, on average, business owners expect their labour costs to increase by 5.8 per cent this year.
That’s significantly higher than the two per cent wage increases that consumers told the bank they were expecting.
“Workers do not anticipate their wage gains will keep up with inflation,” the bank said, adding that those in the private sector think their wages will increase this year by more than those in the public sector will.
Economist Leslie Preston with TD Bank said the survey shows just how big a concern inflation is in the minds of ordinary consumers.
“This survey suggests consumer spending in real terms is likely to slow in the coming months as wages can’t keep up with inflation, and households are already being forced to economize,” she said, adding that expectations of high inflation to come “is a source of concern for low-income consumers in particular, who are adjusting to high inflation by cutting spending, postponing major purchases, looking for discounts more often, and buying more affordable items.”
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