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Apr 16, 2019

Canadian banks on 'credit doomsday watch,' CIBC analysts warn

Canadian banks' credit on 'doomsday watch,' CIBC analyst says

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Canada’s bank sector could be vulnerable to loan losses as credit conditions worsen, according to a new report from CIBC Capital Markets that calls the situation “hardly apocalyptic, but still noteworthy.”

“Given the age of the current cycle and soft Q1/F19 reporting in which most banks saw notably weaker loan loss provisions, it does feel like the minute hand on our Credit Doomsday Clock moved a little closer to midnight, not to signal that the end of humanity approaches, but that the end of trough loan losses is coming,” CIBC Capital Markets analysts Robert Sedran, Christopher Bailey and Marco Giurleo, wrote in a note to clients Tuesday.

While the analysts did not specifically reference short sellers who have recently taken aim at the country’s lenders, their take on the sector comes amid a chorus of warnings that Canadian bank stocks will soon come under pressure.

Steve Eisman, the money manager who foresaw the collapse of the U.S. housing market, told BNN Bloomberg last week that Canada’s bank CEOs are “ill-prepared” for potential credit losses if the economy declines.

Of the big Canadian lenders, Eisman said he’s shorting Royal Bank of Canada, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Laurentian Bank of Canada. He’s also targeting mortgage insurer Genworth MI Canada Inc. and alternative lender Home Capital Group Inc.

Last month, a Veritas Investment Research analyst also recommended clients lighten up on the Big Six bank stocks on an expectation that their loan loss provisions will rise. 

The CIBC analysts said that Canadian banks appear to be headed for their weakest credit cycle since the oil price collapse, which caused related loan losses to jump in 2016. While their prediction is “not a coming apocalypse,” the report said the banks’ loan losses last quarter had a “one-off feel to them” that could become more frequent.

“For reference, the actual doomsday clock sits at two minutes to midnight,” the analysts said.

“While Canada has not seen a meaningful economic downturn in quite some time, [Canadian banks] remain cyclical businesses that are built to absorb the pain when it comes, not avoid it.”

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