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National Bank of Canada is the worst performing of the Big Six bank stocks in the past five years, but dividend investors may want to overlook this.

That's because National Bank had the highest rate of dividend growth over the past five years at 10.4 per cent annualized, just edging out Royal Bank of Canada at 10.1 per cent. This is the surprising complication of investing in bank stocks – the most suitable picks depend on your needs as an investor.

National wins on a pure yield basis – its dividend produced a yield of 5.3 per cent as of early May. That's a reflection of a share price that fell close to 16 per cent for the 12 months to May 10 and was up a mere 4.6 per cent cumulatively for the previous five years. In both those timeframes, National generated the lowest share price returns of any Big Six bank.

The recent weakness in National shares should make you wonder if the bank can keep up its strong record of dividend growth. The one-year growth numbers are positive on this count – says the quarterly payout was up 8 per cent in the past year, which is second best to Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's 11.3-per-cent increase.

Globeinvestor pegs Bank of Montreal's five-year dividend growth rate at 3.7 per cent, lowest of the big banks. Yet on a total return basis – dividends plus changes in share price – the bank has led over that period with annualized growth rate of 9.6 per cent. BMO's yield in early May was 4.2 per cent, which was second-lowest in the group.

The bank with the best all-around record of dividend growth and total return in the past five years is Toronto-Dominion Bank. It ranked third in five-year dividend growth at 9.1 per cent, which is not too far behind the leaders. The five-year total return was 9.4 per cent, just behind top-ranked BMO.

The price you pay for TD's well-roundedness is in the comparatively low yield. At 3.7 per cent, TD trails the other five.