Canada’s largest banks have set aside almost $2.5 billion to prepare for a wave of credit and loan losses as economic conditions worsen.
The Big Six banks, which reported fiscal first-quarter earnings over the past week, all posted significant increases in such reserves — called provisions for credit losses (PCLs) — compared to a year earlier, when they totalled just $373 million.
It’s the biggest buffer for credit losses since the first year of the pandemic, when the financial giants also built up provisions before it became clear that government financial supports and a stockpile of consumer savings would help stave off a wave of loan delinquencies.
But Canadians are now grappling with sharply higher borrowing costs, after a year of aggressive interest-rate hikes by the central bank, and facing still-persistently high prices for food and other necessities.
Bank executives said this week they don’t expect a dramatic spike in defaults, particularly as employment remains high, but they anticipate what they call a “normalization” of credit loss trends.
They said the risks of delinquencies and losses on credit cards, lines of credit and auto loans are more likely than mortgage defaults, and such delinquencies have already started to increase in recent quarters.
“We expect write offs and delinquencies to revert towards pre-pandemic levels,” said CIBC’s Chief Risk Officer Frank Guse, while executives from the other banks shared similar comments.
“As anticipated, key credit metrics continued to rise from cyclically low levels experienced last year,” said Ajai Bambawale, chief risk officer at TD, “with this trend most evident in the consumer lending portfolios.”
Royal Bank CEO Dave McKay said Wednesday that his bank’s financial results were hit by higher PCLs in the quarter, noting, “we expect them to continue increasing from cyclical lows.”
The country’s biggest bank set aside $532 million in PCLs for the three months ended Jan. 31, up from $105 million in the same period last year, and McKay added that the growing cost of debt will play a role in the broader economic picture.