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Canada's Big Five Banks Rake In $9.9 Billion In Profits In Third Quarter

TORONTO — Canada's five biggest banks raked in a combined $9.89 billion in profits during the third quarter, as analysts shifted their focus from sour oilpatch loans to a possible housing downturn.

Executives at Scotiabank — which on Tuesday reported a quarterly profit of $1.96 billion, up six per cent from a year ago — said they are encouraged that oil prices appear to have bottomed.

"With regards to our energy exposures, we have been consistent in stating that losses will be manageable and we are confident that losses in this sector have peaked,'' Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter told analysts during a conference call Tuesday.

The bank reported that provisions for credit losses — the money set aside for bad loans — fell to $571 million, down $181 million from the previous quarter, largely thanks to lower losses in the energy sector.

Scotiabank earnings amounted to $1.54 per share, up from $1.45 per share during the same period last year. It was the last of the five big banks to report its earnings results.

Overall, the five biggest lenders grew their combined profit by 13 per cent from a year ago when they had $8.75 billion in quarterly earnings.

In revenue, the five banks earned a total of $35.37 billion, up from $31.30 billion during the same quarter last year.

The banks managed to shrug off concerns about loans to the energy sector, reporting lower provisions for credit losses than they had in the previous quarter.

But talk about mortgage loans dominated their earnings calls.

"It seems like analysts have pivoted now more to being concerned about exposure to real estate,'' Edward Jones analyst Jim Shanahan said.

"That's likely to be focus for the balance of the year.''

However, Shanahan added the havoc of low oil prices may not be over yet, particularly if the price of crude has not bottomed as the bank believes it has.

"If they're wrong then it's likely that losses haven't peaked for these oil and gas portfolios,'' he said.

Like its peers, Scotiabank fielded questions about its portfolio of residential mortgage loans, reassuring analysts and investors that its loan book is of high quality. Other lenders, including Royal Bank and CIBC, made similar comments last week.

Some analysts are concerned about the possibility of a housing correction, particularly in the red-hot Vancouver and Toronto markets, and what impact that could have on the banks given their concentration in the residential mortgage market.

"I think we're being vigilant in this market,'' James O'Sullivan, Scotiabank's group head of Canadian banking, said Tuesday.

"We're not overly concerned. We believe we've constructed a very, very solid mortgage book here.''

"I think we're being vigilant in this market."

The bank has been shifting its focus away from mortgages and towards other kinds of loans, O'Sullivan added.

Scotiabank also announced it's raising its quarterly dividend by two cents per share to 74 cents.

Revenue grew to $6.64 billion, up from $6.12 billion a year ago.

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