Canadian Bank Buybacks Will Have to Wait as Pandemic Drags On


Canada’s top banking regulator dashed hopes that the country’s lenders will be able to follow U.S. peers in resuming share buybacks soon, saying it won’t reverse its safeguards on the financial system as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions implemented measures in March to shore up the financial system, including asking banks not to increase dividends or total executive compensation, or to repurchase shares. On Monday, Jeremy Rudin, the regulator’s head, said those measures will remain in place for the time being.

“We will review those expectations when we have more clarity on the path out of the economic uncertainty created by the pandemic, and then we’ll communicate those decisions transparently,” Rudin said in prepared remarks for RBC Capital Markets’ Canadian Bank CEO Conference. “That review won’t happen while lockdowns of unknown duration are still spreading across the country.”

OSFI’s approach contrasts with that of the U.S. Federal Reserve, which in December allowed Wall Street banks to resume buybacks. Lenders including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said they’d take the Fed up on its offer. U.S. banks still are prevented from increasing their dividends through the first quarter.

While OSFI has removed special measures that let Canadian banks help consumers with loan deferrals early in the pandemic, and has opened the door to payments of certain special dividends, Rudin said the government is taking a more cautious approach on the broader dividend and buyback restrictions.

“We need to persist with many of the exceptional steps that we took at the onset of pandemic,” Rudin said. “We need to do that to make sure that the financial system is ready in case the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic are deeper or more prolonged than we hope.”

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