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Bank CEOs ‘should be worried’ about real estate: TD’s Clark

Toronto-Dominion Bank President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Clark attends the company's annual general meeting in Ottawa April 4, 2013.

Chris Wattie/REUTERS

Ed Clark, Toronto-Dominion Bank's outspoken chief executive officer, is playing the contrarian card one more time, publicly arguing that he and his fellow bank CEOs should be cautious about the country's heated real estate market.

While he isn't worried about a full-blown bust, Mr. Clark believes chief executives simply can't ignore warning signs in the market – particularly the sudden run up in prices for real estate of all stripes. "If you run a bank, you should be worried about it," he told the audience at a bank conference in Toronto.

His opinion contrasts with those of his peers, many of whom argued Tuesday that the data they look at simply does not give them reason to be overly worried.

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Brian Porter, Bank of Nova Scotia's CEO, told the crowd that he studied his bank's retail loan book this past weekend – much of which is tied up in retail mortgages – and he didn't find much cause for concern. Until now the portfolio has been stable, with loan delinquencies at levels that are barely noticeable.

"I know you're looking in the rear-view mirror when you do that," he added, implying that past success doesn't mean the future won't be rocky, but he's confident that the market won't wreak havoc on the bank's loan book.

Mr. Porter has also met with developers in Toronto and Vancouver to ask in-depth questions, and he's studied the market dynamics enough to give him comfort. "We would view supply and demand relatively in check across the country," he said.

National Bank of Canada CEO Louis Vachon echoed similar comments, noting that he reviews many of the same portfolio metrics, such as delinquencies. And being a Quebec-based bank, he studied the data on owners of Montreal condos – which are being built at a rapid clip – and found that the vast majority of those properties are owner-occupied, meaning there isn't a lot of investor speculation in the market.

As for the rush of new condo supply, he remains unfazed. "Is there a massive disequilibrium in the real estate market in Montreal? I don't think there is," he said.

Mr. Clark's comments Tuesday weren't the first he's made on the topic, but this time he went into more detail on how his bank is changing its behaviour.

"We're saying 'no' lots of times" to potential real estate borrowers," he said, some of whom are big, lucrative clients. Mr. Clark wouldn't name names, but he noted that in one instance, Tim Hockey, the bank's head of Canadian retail and commercial banking, was "virtually in tears" for having to turn the client down.

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About the Author
Reporter and Streetwise columnist

Tim Kiladze is a business reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before crossing over to journalism, he worked in equity capital markets at National Bank Financial and in fixed-income sales and trading at RBC Dominion Securities. Tim graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and also earned a Bachelor in Commerce in finance from McGill University. More

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