Big Canadian banks set for buying spree

While the average person is coping with lost income, a vanishing pension, shrinking benefits, inaccessible unemployment insurance and double-digit joblessness, the Big Five Canadian banks are flush with capital, thank you very much.

And you know what? They’re preparing to go on an international shopping spree.

Canadian bank executives dropped strong hints in mid-September that, having weathered the global financial crisis, they are ready to make some “once in decades” acquisitions – especially in the United States, where more than 90 U.S. banks have been closed so far this year.

Gordon Nixon, chief executive of Royal Bank of Canada, told a bankers’ summit “Over the next few years, there will be significant aquisition opportunities in wealth and asset management.” The RBC has businesses in the U.S. and Caribbean, and global custody and investor services through 50 per cent ownership in RBC Dexia Investor Services.

Scotiabank has operations in about 50 countries, including the U.S., Caribbean and Central America, Europe, Middle East and Asia, with 5.5 million customers, 1,500 branches and 2,660 ABMs. It is eyeing expansion in Chile, Japan and Mexio.

Toronto-Dominion Bank has 1,100 retail locations from Maine to Florida, wholesale bank offices in the U.S., Mexico, U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and South Korea. Brokerage TD Waterhouse also operates in the U.K.

Bank of Montreal owns Harris Bank, a major U.S. Midwest financial services organization with a network of banks in the Chicago area. It also operates across the U.S. with BMO Capital Markets, its investment banking division. BMO highlighted buying troubled consumer banks to bolster its Midwest footprint.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is in 17 regional markets in the Caribbean through First Caribbean International Bank. CIBC’s wholesale banking division also operates worldwide.

The Big Five apparently didn’t need a government bail-out, but just in case, the feds did initiate a programme to aid them. Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in October said Ottawa would spend up to C$25 billion (US$19.6 billion) to buy mortgages from banks in an effort to keep them lending to homeowners. The size of the program has been increased twice, most recently to C$125 billion.

Workers’ tax money funded aid to banks, auto, forestry and other corporate giants. But we are still waiting to see the public works and job creation spending promised by the federal government last Fall and Winter. -Barry Weisleder