A Tale of Two Banking Sectors: Comparing Canada and the U.S.
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A Tale of Two Banking Sectors: Canada vs. U.S.

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A Tale of Two Banking Sectors: Canada vs. U.S.

A Tale of Two Banking Sectors: Canada vs. U.S.

Regardless of which side of the 49th parallel you are on, banking sectors play a crucial role in both the financial system and the economy.

But while banks on each side of the border perform many similar functions, and have comparable economic impacts, the fact is that the U.S. and Canadian banking systems are very different.

Comparing Canadian and U.S. Banks

Today’s infographic comes to us from RBC Global Asset Management and it compares Canadian and U.S. banks directly based on a variety of factors.

The histories of both banking sectors are contrasted, but subjects such as the regulatory environments, market forces, the number and size of banks, and post-crisis landscapes are also compared. An outlook for investors on both sectors is also provided.

The end result is an interesting depiction of two banking sectors that are related in many ways, but that also have distinct differences and ways of doing business.

General Differences:
Historically, the Canadian banking system favors a limited quantity of banks, and many branches. It also carries the British influence of valuing stability over experimentation. Meanwhile, U.S. banking is more decentralized and localized, and more open to experimentation. This has led to trial and error, but also the world’s largest bank system.

Regulatory Focuses
Canada’s banking system tends to promote safety and soundness, while the American system keys in on privacy, anti-money laundering, banking access, and consumer protection measures.

Market Environment
The Canadian market is worth C$142 billion (US$111 billion) per year, while the U.S. market is over 10x bigger at US$1.4 trillion. Interestingly, these market sizes explain why Canadian banks often seek growth opportunities in the U.S. market, while U.S. banks just focus on the massive domestic sector for growth.

Number of Banks
There are 85 banks in Canada, and 4,938 in the United States.

Market Share
Canada’s five biggest banks hold a whopping 89% of market share, while America’s five biggest banks only hold 35% of market share.

Biggest Banks
Canada’s “Big Five” Banks:
RBC: C$142 billion
TD: C$130 billion
Scotia: C$93 billion
BMO: C$62 billion
CIBC: C$49 billion

The Biggest Four Banks in the U.S.:
JPMorgan Chase: US$377 billion
Bank of America: US$310 billion
Wells Fargo: US$260 billion
Citigroup: US$179 billion

In Canada, there are no other institutions worth over C$25 billion, but in the States there are eight that are worth between US$50-$100 billion.

Outlook for Investors

Not only are the two banking environments quite different in terms of character – but Canadian and U.S. banks are at different points in their market cycles, as well.

Post-2008 Reaction
Banks in Canada were minimally impacted by the Financial Crisis, and have been permitted to use lower risk weights than U.S. Banks. As a result, they’ve been able to hold less capital for each loan (i.e. higher leverage)

Banks in the U.S. have spent the past number of years building capital. Regulators required U.S. banks to be conservative in their approach post-crisis. As a result, U.S. banks have lower leverage than Canadian peers.

Leverage (Asset/Equity)
Canada’s “Big Five”:
18.3

Five Biggest U.S. Banks:
9.3

Dividend Yield
Canadian Banks: 3.9%
S&P/TSX Composite: 2.9%

Top 15 U.S. Banks: 2.5%
S&P 500: 2.1%

Which Sector Should Investors Choose?

There are compelling reasons to consider the financial institutions of either country:

Canada

  1. Canadian banks have a proven track-record of delivering steady dividends that have grown over time.
  2. Canadian banks have a strong global reputation for reliability and safety due to Canada’s sound regulatory framework and their relatively risk-averse approach.
  3. Canadian bank stocks can also be a good source of consistent income, with dividends that pay higher than the market. Canadians also doubly benefit, since to the Canadian dividend tax credit.

United States

  1. U.S. banks have significantly improved their balance sheets and capital structure over the past decade to be better positioned for future market cycles.
  2. Stronger U.S. economic growth combined with changing monetary policy creates a positive environment for U.S. banks to benefit from increased business and consumer demand and wider interest rate spreads.
  3. Recent tax cuts and deregulation are likely to benefit U.S. banks, as savings stand to contribute to earnings per share, and potentially lead to higher dividend payouts along with share buybacks.

Canadian and U.S. banks are similar in many ways – but their differing histories, competitive frameworks, and economic environments each provide unique exposure for investors.

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Inflation rates are reaching multi-decade highs in some countries. How aggressive have central banks been with interest rate hikes?

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Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

Imagine today’s high inflation like a car speeding down a hill. In order to slow it down, you need to hit the brakes. In this case, the “brakes” are interest rate hikes intended to slow spending. However, some central banks are hitting the brakes faster than others.

This graphic uses data from central banks and government websites to show how policy interest rates and inflation rates have changed since the start of the year. It was inspired by a chart created by Macrobond.

How Do Interest Rate Hikes Combat Inflation?

To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.

Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.

Rising Interest Rates and Inflation

With inflation rates hitting multi-decade highs in some countries, many central banks have announced interest rate hikes. Below, we show how the inflation rate and policy interest rate have changed for select countries and regions since January 2022. The jurisdictions are ordered from highest to lowest current inflation rate.

JurisdictionJan 2022 InflationMay 2022 InflationJan 2022 Policy RateJun 2022 Policy Rate
UK5.50%9.10%0.25%1.25%
U.S.7.50%8.60%0.00%-0.25%1.50%-1.75%
Euro Area5.10%8.10%0.00%0.00%
Canada5.10%7.70%0.25%1.50%
Sweden3.90%7.20%0.00%0.25%
New Zealand5.90%6.90%0.75%2.00%
Norway3.20%5.70%0.50%1.25%
Australia3.50%5.10%0.10%0.85%
Switzerland1.60%2.90%-0.75%-0.25%
Japan0.50%2.50%-0.10%-0.10%

The Euro area has 3 policy rates; the data above represents the main refinancing operations rate. Inflation data is as of May 2022 except for New Zealand and Australia, where the latest quarterly data is as of March 2022.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive with its interest rate hikes. It has raised its policy rate by 1.5% since January, with half of that increase occurring at the June 2022 meeting. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the committee would like to “do a little more front-end loading” to bring policy rates to normal levels. The action comes as the U.S. faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years.

On the other hand, the European Union is experiencing inflation of 8.1% but has not yet raised its policy rate. The European Central Bank has, however, provided clear forward guidance. It intends to raise rates by 0.25% in July, by a possibly larger increment in September, and with gradual but sustained increases thereafter. Clear forward guidance is intended to help people make spending and investment decisions, and avoid surprises that could disrupt markets.

Pacing Interest Rate Hikes

Raising interest rates is a fine balancing act. If central banks raise rates too quickly, it’s like slamming the brakes on that car speeding downhill: the economy could come to a standstill. This occurred in the U.S. in the 1980’s when the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Paul Volcker, raised the policy rate to 20%. The economy went into a recession, though the aggressive monetary policy did eventually tame double digit inflation.

However, if rates are raised too slowly, inflation could gather enough momentum that it becomes difficult to stop. The longer high price increases linger, the more future inflation expectations build. This can result in people buying more in anticipation of prices rising further, perpetuating high demand.

“There’s always a risk of going too far or not going far enough, and it’s going to be a very difficult judgment to make.” — Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair

It’s worth noting that while central banks can influence demand through policy rates, this is only one side of the equation. Inflation is also being caused by supply chain issues, a problem that is more or less outside of the control of central banks.

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3 Insights From the FED’s Latest Economic Snapshot

Stay up to date on the U.S. economy with this infographic summarizing the most recent Federal Reserve data released.

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us economic snapshot

3 Insights From the Latest U.S. Economic Data

Each month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York publishes monthly economic snapshots.

To make this report accessible to a wider audience, we’ve identified the three most important takeaways from the report and compiled them into one infographic.

1. Growth figures in Q2 will make or break a recession

Generally speaking, a recession begins when an economy exhibits two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. Because U.S. GDP shrank by -1.5% in Q1 2022 (January to March), a lot rests on the Q2 figure (April to June) which should be released on July 28th.

Referencing strong business activity and continued growth in consumer spending, economists predict that U.S. GDP will grow by +2.1% in Q2. This would mark a decisive reversal from Q1, and put an end to recessionary fears for the time being.

Unfortunately, inflation is the top financial concern for Americans, and this is dampening consumer confidence. Shown below, the consumer confidence index reflects the public’s short-term outlook for income, business, and labor conditions.

consumer price index 2005 to 2022

Falling consumer confidence suggests that more people will delay big purchases such as cars, major appliances, and vacations.

2. The COVID-era housing boom could be over

Housing markets have been riding high since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this run is likely coming to an end. Here’s a summary of what’s happened since 2020:

  • Lockdowns in early 2020 created lots of pent-up demand for homes
  • Greater household savings and record-low mortgage rates pushed demand even further
  • Supply chain disruptions greatly increased the cost of materials like lumber
  • Construction of new homes couldn’t keep up, and housing supply fell to historic lows

Today, home prices are at record highs and the cost of borrowing is rapidly rising. For evidence, look no further than the 30-year fixed mortgage rate, which has doubled to more than 6% since the beginning of 2022.

Given these developments, the drop in the number of home sales could be a sign that many Americans are being priced out of the market.

3. Don’t expect groceries to become any cheaper

Inflation has been a hot topic this year, especially with gas prices reaching $5 a gallon. But there’s one category of goods that’s perhaps even more alarming: food.

The following table includes food inflation over the past three years, as the percent change over the past 12 months.

DateCPI Food Component (%)
2018-02-011.4%
2019-05-012.0%
2019-06-011.9%
2019-07-011.8%
2019-08-011.7%
2019-09-011.8%
2019-10-012.1%
2019-11-012.0%
2019-12-011.8%
2020-01-011.8%
2020-02-011.8%
2020-03-011.9%
2020-04-013.5%
2020-05-014.0%
2020-06-014.5%
2020-07-014.1%
2020-08-014.1%
2020-09-014.0%
2020-10-013.9%
2020-11-013.7%
2020-12-013.9%
2021-01-013.8%
2021-02-013.6%
2021-03-013.5%
2021-04-012.4%
2021-05-012.1%
2021-06-012.4%
2021-07-013.4%
2021-08-013.7%
2021-09-014.6%
2021-10-015.3%
2021-11-016.1%
2021-12-016.3%
2022-01-017.0%
2022-02-017.9%
2022-03-018.8%
2022-04-019.4%
2022-05-0110.1%

From this data, we can see that food inflation really picked up speed in April 2020, jumping to +3.5% from +1.9% in the previous month. This was due to supply chain disruptions and a sudden rebound in global demand.

Fast forward to today, and food inflation is running rampant at 10.1%. A contributing factor is the impending fertilizer shortage, which stems from the Ukraine war. As it turns out, Russia is not only a massive exporter of oil, but wheat and fertilizer as well.

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