Dragging their feet

At 9 am yesterday, the Bank of Canada announced it was cutting the overnight rate by 50 basis points.

Not one of the major banks announced it would adjust its prime rate until TD Bank broke the seal at 2:19 pm with an announcement that it would lower its prime rate. Announcements from the other banks followed, sluggishly.

The bank announcements about lowering their prime rates are usually automatic — made within an hour of the BoC decision. It certainly seems as if more deliberation about whether to follow or not took place this time. Note that TD Bank is the only bank not affected by the ABCP problems in Canada, and the only one that didn’t, for its most recent quarter, announce either a huge writedown or decline in profit — unlike CIBC, BMO, Scotiabank, and the Royal.

The banks mused aloud back in January about not cutting in line with the BoC. Their margins are squeezed and leaving more room between the rates they charge consumers and have to pay themselves could help avoid more deterioration in earnings. Many economists are anticipating another half-point cut in April. That may be a cut too far for the banks.