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TD CEO bullish on U.S. economic recovery, warns Canada losing competitive edge

CALGARY - The CEO of TD Bank expressed a bullish view of the U.S. economic recovery on Thursday, while warning that Canada risks losing its competitive edge if small and medium businesses don't export more of their goods.

Much has changed since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, Ed Clark told shareholders at the bank's annual meeting in Calgary.

"The big news is that the U.S. is back," he said.

"Indeed, America, which was once described as the epicentre of the global financial crisis, is now viewed as the potential growth engine of the world."

Clark listed off a number of factors that are contributing to the brighter picture south of the border. For instance, the real estate recovery is picking up steam, consumer spending is improving, America's energy sector is booming and the U.S. is now seeing the "on-shoring" of jobs.

That's good news for a bank that has a strong U.S. presence. TD has more retail locations in the U.S. than it does in Canada — nearly 1,300 along the east coast. It opened 24 new branches last year and anticipates opening 34 more this year.

There's the opportunity to do more in that market, he told reporters following the meeting.

"We know that there are a lot of upper commercial or lower corporate companies that would love to do business with us," he said.

But TD isn't keen to get into more "sophisticated stuff" than that in the United States.

"We do not want to be Goldman Sachs in the United States. We don't think we can be Goldman Sachs there."

There's also the opportunity for "more plain vanilla security dealer business" in the U.S.

"That's all very profitable business and that's where we're trying to grow."

Meanwhile, Clark said when it comes to non-commodity exports, "Canada is losing its competitive edge."

Canada's market share of U.S. non-commodity imports has dropped by about 30 per cent over the past decade and less than 10 per cent of Canada's small and medium-sized businesses export their wares, Clark said in his speech.

In Canada, 50 companies make up 50 per cent of the country's exports, he added.

Speaking to reporters, Clark said governments need to engage more with small businesses to figure out why they aren't exporting. As well, colleges and universities should do more to foster entrepreneurship.

"We educate business people as if they're all going to go into big bureaucracies, big corporate bureaucracies," he said.

"If we're going to have the next generation that's going to drive growth in Canada, we have to create more entrepreneurs and they have to be more willing to go outside of Canada for their activity."

Clark has announced he'll retire as CEO this November. His successor will be chief operating officer Bharat Masrani, who played a key role in establishing TD's U.S. business.

The Canadian Press

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