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An ING Direct café in Toronto: Scotiabank acquired ING Bank of Canada last week. following the announcement that ING Bank of Canada will be acquired by Scotiabank on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRE SS/Michelle Siu (MICHELLE SIU/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
An ING Direct café in Toronto: Scotiabank acquired ING Bank of Canada last week. following the announcement that ING Bank of Canada will be acquired by Scotiabank on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRE SS/Michelle Siu (MICHELLE SIU/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

financial services

Cash-flush Canadian banks shop for acquisitions Add to ...

Having spent tens of billions of dollars on assets around the world over the past few years, Canada’s major banks are poised for another round of acquisitions, sending strong signals to investors that they have a healthy appetite for more deals.

On the heels of last week’s $3.1-billion purchase of ING Bank of Canada by Bank of Nova Scotia, the largest sale of Canadian retail banking assets in more than a decade, several rival banks are making noise about wanting to bulk up themselves.

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Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Montreal and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce have suggested they may seek further acquisitions if the right deals can be found. Flush with cash after a robust third-quarter in which the country’s Big Six lenders reported a combined $8.2-billion in profit, the banks have hiked their dividends, but are also looking to expand.

“We’ve continued to look [for acquisitions] over the last few years and we will continue to look going forward to build on our franchise,” Frank Techar, head of personal and commercial banking in Canada for BMO, told analysts last week.

His comments were echoed by Toronto-Dominion Bank chief executive officer Ed Clark, who indicated Canada’s second-largest bank has been seeking acquisitions to expand its network of branches in the United States. However, Mr. Clark said TD has taken “a pass” on assets that have recently come up for sale because it couldn’t find the right deal.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce CEO Gerry McCaughey said he also plans to pursue acquisitions, but that his bank will seek deals that are smaller in size.

The potential for another shopping spree comes after Canadian banks recently completed an acquisition binge that saw them buy more than $24-billion of assets around the world between early 2009 and late 2011.

The growth spurt came as struggling financial institutions began shedding assets to shore up their capital. Canadian banks, which weathered the financial downturn better than lenders in Europe and the U.S., took advantage of a sudden buyer’s market for properties.

TD was one of the most aggressive during that time, buying banks in South Carolina and Florida to expand its large U.S. footprint, while also purchasing the Chrysler Financial Corp. auto-lending business. Mr. Clark suggested he is not finished, though TD is being picky about potential deals.

“We have an active corporate development group that looks at everything. It certainly turns down at least … 90 or 95 [possible acquisitions] for every 100 that it looks at,” Mr. Clark said. “So they’re very disciplined.”

As Canadian banks pursue deals, some have shown a preference to pay for assets with shares rather than dipping into precious capital reserves amid new international regulations that require financial institutions to hold more capital to backstop their operations. That means investors may have to get used to seeing banks issue shares to cover the cost of an acquisition, which dilutes shareholders and can depress share prices. The payoff comes eventually, when the asset starts pumping profits into the bank’s business.

Bank of Nova Scotia will issue $1.51-billion worth of shares to help fund its $3.1-billion purchase of ING’s Canadian business. Similarly, when BMO bought Wisconsin-based lender Marshall and Ilsley Corp. for about $4-billion, it looked at issuing up to $800-million worth of shares, but later cancelled that plan, believing the new shares weren’t necessary. But in an effort to preserve capital, BMO put dividend increases on hold until last week.

BMO will likely pursue more deals in the U.S. to expand its footprint throughout states like Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri. “Today there is no question that in the market, the strongest banks have the opportunity to grow their businesses,” BMO CEO Bill Downe said in an interview.

At CIBC, Mr. McCaughey also wants to pursue acquisitions, particularly in the wealth management area. However, after executing a significant deal last summer with the purchase of a 41-per-cent stake in American Century Investments, a U.S. asset management company, for $848-million, CIBC is now hunting smaller game.

Last week, the bank purchased Griffis & Small, a boutique energy advisory firm in Texas. A few weeks earlier, CIBC bought the private-banking business of MFS McLean Budden from Sun Life Financial Inc. to build out its wealth management operations. It did not disclose price tags for either deal.

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