It was a quarter to forget for investors in Canada’s bank stocks. Profit growth was sluggish, loan loss provisions climbed steeply and most of the banks accustomed to seeing outsized profit growth from their operations outside of Canada reported meagre growth there instead.

Except for National Bank of Canada.

At National, earnings per share growth was in double-digit range and exceeded analysts’ expectations, provisions for credit losses barely budged from the prior quarter, profit from its international business rose 22 per cent and the bank bumped up its dividend.

So what is National doing right?

Under CEO Louis Vachon, National’s management has long been regarded as top-notch. Add a quality management team to a booming Quebec economy, and good things are bound to happen – and they have. In its fourth quarter, National drove profit in retail banking up a solid five per cent on revenue growth of three per cent.

National expects continued strength in the Quebec economy. So do many economists. Earlier this year, Robert Hogue – senior economist at Royal Bank of Canada – said the boom is supported by strong fundamentals like labour force growth and solid capital spending.

“We see little that would throw Quebec’s economy off its faster track in the near term,” Hogue said.

Capital markets can be a wild card for the banks but, more often than not, National Bank Financial delivers strong numbers. This time around, profit rose seven per cent in that segment.

Outside of Canada, National has a specialty finance business in the U.S. and a commercial banking unit in Cambodia. Profit in that segment rose 22 per cent in the fourth quarter – including a 58 per cent surge in Cambodia. Those are impressive numbers in a quarter when Bank of Nova Scotia, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Montreal each reported muted profit growth in their international operations.

And National’s numbers did not include restructuring charges that – whether included in “adjusted” earnings or not – diminished results at BMO, Royal and TD.

CIBC Capital Markets Head of Equity Research Robert Sedran told BNN Bloomberg’s Paige Ellis that National hasn’t booked restructuring charges like that for a while.

“It’s almost like they are not going through the same things the other banks are,” he noted.

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