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Royal Bank of Canada’s latest quarterly earnings beat expectations with a 15-per-cent jump in net income, helped by rising interest rates and U.S. tax reforms, to cap off a year where the lender generated a record annual profit of $12.4-billion.

The Toronto-based bank delivered net income during the three-month period ended Oct. 31 of $3.25-billion, driven by strong performances in its personal and commercial banking, capital markets, wealth management and insurance.

“While increased protectionism and geopolitical risks created market uncertainty throughout the year, our results did benefit from rising interest rates, GDP growth, a benign credit environment and U.S. tax reform,” said Dave McKay, RBC president and chief executive, on a conference call on Wednesday.

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“We took advantage of the strong macroeconomic environment to add over 1,000 frontline staff in Canada and the U.S. and to invest in technology to strengthen our leading position.”

The bank’s profit for its fourth quarter amounted to $2.20 a diluted share, up from $1.88 a share a year ago. On an adjusted-cash basis, the bank says it earned $2.24 a share, up from $1.92 in the same period in 2017. Analysts on average had expected earnings per share of $2.12, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

During the latest quarter, the bank’s personal and commercial banking division delivered net income of $1.54-billion, up 10 per cent from a year ago “largely reflecting improved deposit spreads from higher Canadian interest rates.” RBC also saw 5-per-cent average volume growth in Canadian banking, driven by growth in residential mortgages, commercial lending and deposit products.

The bank’s net income from its capital-markets arm increased 14 per cent to $666-million, largely owing to a lower effective tax rate under U.S. President Donald Trump’s tax reforms.

RBC’s wealth-management division saw a 13-per-cent increase in net income to $553-million, while RBC’s insurance division reported a 20-per-cent year-over-year increase in net income to $318-million.

However, the bank’s investor and treasury services department’s net income of $155-million was relatively flat compared with a year ago.

Net interest margins, the difference between the money they earn on the loans they make and what they pay out to savers, in Canadian banking was up 12 basis points year over year to 2.77 per cent, helped by multiple Bank of Canada rate hikes.

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“A big headline beat was driven largely by a surge in the insurance business, but even excluding that the underlying business trends were solid and in line with what are always high expectations of this bank,” said Robert Sedran, an analyst with CIBC Capital Markets, in a note to clients.

RBC is the second of its peers to report its earnings for the financial fourth quarter and 2018 year.

Bank of Nova Scotia on Tuesday reported a 10-per-cent jump in quarterly net income to $2.27-billion, falling just short of analyst expectations. On an annual basis, Scotiabank saw an 5.8-per-cent annual jump in net income to $8.72-billion. Scotiabank said was selling its banking operations in nine Caribbean markets, with more potential divestments to come, as it intends to spend 2019 integrating the raft of acquisitions it has made over the past year.

RBC, on Wednesday, however, said the bank has optionality for growth and it is looking at potential U.S. acquisitions for “tuck-in geographic expansions.”

“We are looking at playbooks, but there is nothing imminent,” Mr. McKay told analysts.

There is plenty of opportunity to grow organically in markets such as in Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Minn., and further expansion in California, where RBC’s City National bank is based, he said.

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“If it fits, and it’s the right price, and it will drive shareholder return, we’ll consider it,” Mr. McKay told analysts. “But right now, we’re focused on organic growth in the marketplace and, you know, assets are still pretty expensive.”

For its full financial year, RBC reported net income of $12.4-billion up roughly 8 per cent from $11.5-billion in 2017. That amounted to $8.36 diluted earnings a share on an annual basis, compared with $7.56 for 2017.

During the 12-month period that ended on Oct. 31, RBC’s personal and commercial banking arm saw 5-per-cent growth to $6.03-billion. Its wealth-management division, which includes City National, was also a bright spot for the bank with 23-per-cent earnings growth to $2.27-billion for the 2018 financial year.

Provisions for credit losses, or money set aside for bad loans during the quarter, was $353-million, up from $234-million during RBC’s fourth quarter in 2017.

Its key measure of financial health, called the common equity tier 1 ratio (CET1), was 11.5 per cent, up from 10.9 a year ago and 11.1 in the previous quarter.

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