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File photo of the Scotiabank headquarters on on King St., Toronto.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Bank of Nova Scotia reported that its profit in the fourth quarter rose to $1.8-billion, or $1.45 a share, kicking off the quarterly reporting season for the Big Six Canadian banks with results that demonstrated ongoing growth in spite of a slow Canadian economy.

After making some adjustments, the lender's operating earnings for the quarter rose to $1.46 a share, up 8 per cent and ahead of the $1.44 that analysts had been expecting. It maintained its quarterly dividend at 70 cents a share.

For the full fiscal 2015, Scotiabank reported profit of $7.2-billion, or $5.67 a share, up 4.4 per cent from last year on an adjusted basis.

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"The bank's earnings growth in 2015 was driven by very good performances in our personal, commercial and wealth businesses, both in Canada and internationally," Brian Porter, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "The bank continues to perform well, given challenging conditions in certain businesses and markets, and we are well-positioned, including throughout the Pacific Alliance countries, for future growth."

The bank's provision for credit rose to $551-million in the fourth quarter, up about $70-million from the previous quarter.

Canadian banking saw profit rise to $837-million, up 19 per cent from last year. However, after adjusting for the sale of CI Financial Corp., the gain was a more modest 10 per cent.

In international banking, where Scotiabank's operations are extensive relative to its Canadian banking peers, profit jumped 53 per cent, to $564-million, due to strong loan, deposit and fee growth in Latin America, a lower provision for credit losses and the positive boost from foreign currencies.

The bank also announced that it has appointed Ignacio (Nacho) Deschamps as strategic adviser to the president and CEO, digital banking, effective Jan. 4 – as part of the bank's efforts to accelerate its transformation to digital banking both in Canada and internationally.

"His leadership in navigating and leveraging digital banking trends, and his deep banking expertise in key international markets, will provide tremendous benefit to Scotiabank," Mr. Porter said.

Scotiabank said its loan exposure to the oil and gas sector rose 4 per cent from last quarter, with loans now totalling $16.5-billion as the bank increased its commitments to what it deems the lower risk mid-stream and downstream segments.

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While some energy producers have managed to increase their credit facilities with the bank because larger reserve production has offset lower oil prices, some clients are cutting expenses and selling assets.

"As we have indicated over the course of 2015, with continued low energy prices we do expect some fender benders," said Stephen Hart, chief risk officer.

The shares fell 0.4 per cent in late-morning trading on Tuesday.

Although the overall profit picture was strong, analysts pointed out that Scotiabank's results were driven to some extent by extraordinary factors, such as a modification to the bank's main pension plan. Accounting for these one-time items, they believe, lowered Scotiabank's per-share profit by about five cents a share.

"Over all, we have a slightly negative view on the quarter," Darko Mihelic, an analyst at RBC Dominion Securities, said in a note.

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