TORONTO, Feb. 28, 2018 /CNW/ - Equitable Group Inc. (TSX: EQB and EQB.PR.C) ("Equitable" or the "Company") today reported financial results for the three and 12 months ended December 31, 2017 that reflected record performance by its wholly owned subsidiary, Equitable Bank (the "Bank"), and increased its common share dividend.
2017 ANNUAL HIGHLIGHTS
FOURTH QUARTER HIGHLIGHTS
Of note, Equitable took various actions in the second quarter of 2017 to successfully manage through funding market disruptions. The cost of these actions reduced fourth quarter and annual 2017 earnings by $0.32 and $1.11 per share, respectively, and held annual ROE below the Company's five-year average of 17.2%. These actions are discussed more fully the Company's Q2 and Q3 2017 Management's Discussion and Analyses.
DIVIDEND INCREASE AND DECLARATIONS
The Board of Directors today declared a quarterly common share dividend of $0.26 per common share, payable April 5, 2018, to common shareholders of record at the close of business on March 15, 2018. This represents 13% increase over dividends declared in February 2017 and a 4% increase over the dividend declared in November 2017. Even with this increase, the Bank maintained a low payout ratio, consistent with its strategy of building capital organically to support future earnings growth. The Board also declared a quarterly dividend of $0.396875 per preferred share, payable March 31, 2018, to preferred shareholders of record at the close of business on March 15, 2018.
"Equitable demonstrated the success of our position as Canada's Challenger BankTM by delivering a solid performance in the face of challenging market conditions in 2017," said Andrew Moor, President and Chief Executive Officer. "We established new annual records for assets, deposits, earnings and book value per share and maintained our tradition of growing our common share dividend, with four quarterly increases in just over a year. We continued to strengthen our franchise by building the capabilities of our EQ Bank digital platform and, most recently, launching an equity release solution. I was delighted to see the upward trend in earnings, that is a hallmark of Equitable's performance, resume towards the end of the year as the continuing growth in our assets drove net interest income and some of the costs associated with bolstering our liquidity earlier in the year shrank."
Equitable's credit metrics reflect the high quality of the mortgage portfolio. Net impaired mortgage assets at year-end 2017 were a record low 0.12% of total mortgage assets compared to 0.21% in 2016. Management believes that arrears will increase in future quarters from what it believes are unsustainably low levels. The allowance for credit losses represented 0.17% of total mortgage assets at year end, in excess of the Bank's average annual loss rate of 0.04% over the past decade. This allowance represents the amount that the Bank has reserved on its balance sheet to absorb credit losses. The provision for credit losses – which represents the net additions to that allowance in the current period – was $1.5 million or 1 basis point of average mortgage portfolio at year end, reflecting low new loss formations in the quarter and the adequacy of the Bank's existing allowances.
Equitable Bank's Capital Ratios continue to exceed minimum regulatory standards and remain above the levels of most other publicly listed banks. At December 31, 2017, the Bank's:
In 2017, Equitable delivered on its key strategic, financial and operating priorities and invested in various development projects that laid the foundation for future success:
PATH HOME PLANTM LAUNCHES
In January 2018, the Bank introduced PATH Home PlanTM in major urban centres in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Available through mortgage brokers, PATH Home PlanTM enables homeowners to unlock home equity – without selling – to fund travel, hobbies, retirement or any lifestyle pursuits they choose. Known as an equity release or reverse mortgage, Equitable's offering addresses the needs of a growing demographic in Canada – those over the age of 55 who wish to live actively and in a financially secure manner without downsizing or incurring monthly charges. Full repayment of the mortgage is only due when the property is sold or transferred, or when the borrower passes away, moves, or defaults.
"PATH Home PlanTM is the latest example of our Challenger Bank strategy in action," said Mr. Moor, "in that it provides a cost-effective, long-term financing option for Canadians that is not available from other large financial institutions. From a strategic perspective, PATH Home PlanTM fits right in with our core competencies as a mortgage lender, presents us with another option to engage with our mortgage broker partners who will exclusively offer the product, further diversifies our book and will generate attractive returns for shareholders over the long run. Best of all, PATH Home PlanTM will help Canadians unlock the financial freedom they've worked a lifetime to earn."
The equity release product is not expected to make a material contribution to asset growth or earnings in 2018, although it has the potential to create meaningful long-term value. Management estimates the addressable market for equity release products is approximately $12 billion. Currently, Equitable is one of only two providers in the space.
Equitable expects that its strategy, including its disciplined approach to capital allocation, will continue to deliver value to its shareholders and protect the money that depositors have trusted to the Bank. Asset quality remains high and end markets continue to present meaningful opportunities. Accordingly, management expects earnings to continue growing but that ROE in 2018 will be below the Bank's 5-year average of 17.2% due to the costs associated with successfully navigating through funding market disruptions in 2017.
The assumptions used in formulating these expectations can be found in Management's Discussion and Analysis available on the Company's website and on SEDAR.
"One of the major inputs into our business outlook is housing market activity," said Mr. Moor. "As a result of B-20 guidelines for residential underwriting that came into effect January 1, 2018, there is a significant degree of uncertainty among all lenders as to the amount by which the mortgage market will be reduced and reshaped. It's too early to say what the impact on Equitable will be but we are planning for a slowdown in single family lending originations with the pace dependent upon customer and competitor reaction. That said, B-20 could increase our retention rate as renewals are not subject to the same stress test as new mortgages. There may also be some upside if incremental volume flows out of the prime market and into the alternative market. The important point is that Equitable is a diversified lender and as such has opportunities to offset a Single Family slowdown by deploying capital profitably and in a risk-managed way into other businesses such as Commercial. We have substantial Commercial lending experience, great business relationships and a reputation for service excellence. We will leverage the many competitive advantages inherent in our business model in concerted effort to enhance shareholder and customer value this year."
Management's sensitivity analysis suggests that the Bank's alternative single-family mortgage portfolio will grow in 2018 even if originations decline by up to 20%. Asset growth in 2018 would be positive because of renewals and the fact that the volume of originations would still be high relative to the size of the existing portfolio. Considering all of these factors, management expects total MUM and asset growth for 2018 in the range of 6% to 8.
"As we enter 2018, we are particularly motivated to further our Challenger Bank status as both a lender and deposit-taker," said Mr. Moor. "As part of our plan to introduce a broader, longer-term and more diversified range of savings solutions to Canadians, we will begin to offer GICs over our EQ Bank platform this year and have an active roadmap for our digital platform that will strengthen its value to customers. In lending, we introduced digital functionality in early 2018 that provides our residential customers with the option of 24/7 self-service, which is consistent with our objective of providing the best and most convenient service in our chosen markets. And of course our new PATH Home PlanTM broadens our offering to brokers and consumers and, while it will not make a material contribution to 2018 earnings, it does present another dimension for long-term growth. These and other plans form an ambitious and exciting agenda for 2018."
"Our planned growth initiatives will require additional capital investments and lead to higher operating expense growth than last year," said Tim Wilson, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. "Accordingly, we expect an Efficiency Ratio in the high 30 percent range as non-interest expenses increase at year-over-year rates slightly higher than the growth of the overall business. We consider these investments to be warranted in that they will build the Bank's franchise, reinforce customer service and lead to future shareholder value creation. Moreover, they will not alter Equitable's position as one of Canada's most efficient financial institutions."
CONFERENCE CALL AND WEBCAST
The Company will hold its fourth quarter conference call and webcast at 3 pm ET Thursday, March 1, 2018. To access the call live, please dial 647-427-7450 five minutes prior. The listen-only webcast with accompanying slides will be available at www.equitablebank.ca under Investor Relations. The call will be hosted by Andrew Moor, President and Chief Executive Officer.
A replay of the call will be available until March 8, 2018 and it can be accessed by dialing 416-849-0833 and entering passcode 5476669 followed by the number sign. Alternatively, the call will be archived on the Company's website for three months.
RESIGNATION OF JOHANNE BROSSARD
On February 27, 2018 the Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Ms. Johanne Brossard, which was effective immediately. Ms. Brossard resigned from the Equitable Board in order to pursue a Directorship opportunity at a competing financial institution. She joined the Board in 2015 and was a member of the Audit and Human Resources and Compensation Committees. Equitable thanks Ms. Brossard for her contributions and wishes her well in all future endeavors.
Equitable Group Inc. is a growing Canadian financial services business that operates through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Equitable Bank. Equitable Bank, Canada's Challenger Bank™, is the country's ninth largest independent Schedule I bank and offers a diverse suite of residential lending, commercial lending and savings solutions to Canadians. Through its proven branchless approach and customer service focus, Equitable Bank has grown to over $24 billion of Assets Under Management. EQ Bank, the digital banking arm of Equitable Bank, provides state-of-the-art digital banking services to more than 49,000 Canadians. Equitable Bank employs nearly 600 dedicated professionals across the country, and is a 2018 recipient of Canada's Best Employer Platinum Award, the highest bestowed by AON. For more information about Equitable Bank and its products, please visit equitablebank.ca.
CAUTIONARY NOTE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
Statements made by the Company in the sections of this news release including those entitled "CEO's Commentary", "Strategic Update", "Path Home Plan Launches", "Business Outlook", in other filings with Canadian securities regulators and in other communications include forward-looking statements within the meaning of applicable securities laws ("forward-looking statements"). These statements include, but are not limited to, statements about the Company's objectives, strategies and initiatives, financial result expectations and other statements made herein, whether with respect to the Company's businesses or the Canadian economy. Generally, forward-looking statements can be identified by the use of forward-looking terminology such as "plans", "expects" or "does not expect", "is expected", "budget", "scheduled", "planned", "estimates", "forecasts", "intends", "anticipates" or "does not anticipate", or "believes", or variations of such words and phrases which state that certain actions, events or results "may", "could", "would", "might" or "will be taken", "occur" or "be achieved". Forward-looking statements are subject to known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause the actual results, level of activity, closing of transactions, performance or achievements of the Company to be materially different from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements, including but not limited to risks related to capital markets and additional funding requirements, fluctuating interest rates and general economic conditions, legislative and regulatory developments, the nature of our customers and rates of default, and competition as well as those factors discussed under the heading "Risk Management" in the Management's Discussion and Analysis and in the Company's documents filed on SEDAR at www.sedar.com. All material assumptions used in making forward-looking statements are based on management's knowledge of current business conditions and expectations of future business conditions and trends, including their knowledge of the current credit, interest rate and liquidity conditions affecting the Company and the Canadian economy. Although the Company believes the assumptions used to make such statements are reasonable at this time and has attempted to identify in its continuous disclosure documents important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in forward-looking statements, there may be other factors that cause results not to be as anticipated, estimated or intended. Certain material assumptions are applied by the Company in making forward-looking statements, including without limitation, assumptions regarding its continued ability to fund its mortgage business at current levels, a continuation of the current level of economic uncertainty that affects real estate market conditions, continued acceptance of its products in the marketplace, as well as no material changes in its operating cost structure and the current tax regime. There can be no assurance that such statements will prove to be accurate, as actual results and future events could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements. Accordingly, readers should not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements. The Company does not undertake to update any forward-looking statements that are contained herein, except in accordance with applicable securities laws.
NON-GENERALLY ACCEPTED ACCOUNTING PRINCIPLES ("GAAP") FINANCIAL MEASURES
This news release references certain non-GAAP measures such as Return on Shareholders' Equity ("ROE"), Mortgages Under Management, book value per common share, provision for credit loss rate, Capital Ratios, Efficiency Ratio, and Mortgages Under Management that management believes provide useful information to investors regarding the Company's financial condition and results of operations. The "NON-GENERALLY ACCEPTED ACCOUNTING PRINCIPLES ("GAAP") FINANCIAL MEASURES" section of the Company's fourth quarter 2017 Management's Discussion and Analysis provides a detailed description of each non-GAAP measure and should be read in conjunction with this report. The Management's Discussion and Analysis also provides a reconciliation between all non-GAAP measures and the most directly comparable GAAP measure, where applicable. Readers are cautioned that non-GAAP measures do not have any standardized meaning, and therefore, may not be comparable to similar measures presented by other companies.
SOURCE Equitable Group Inc.