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UPDATE 1-Canadian banks return to focus on cost controls, resume paused job cuts

(Adds details from conference throughout)

TORONTO, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Canada’s biggest banks are returning to a focus on managing expenses, with some resuming job cuts put on hold in response to the coronavirus pandemic and others deferring investments not deemed urgent.

Bank of Montreal and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce are resuming job cuts announced early this fiscal year and paused in the spring, their chief executives said at the online Scotiabank Financials Summit on Wednesday.

Expenses haven’t “been the focus of investors over the last couple of quarters,” said Darryl White, chief executive of Bank of Montreal. “But that momentum does matter, when you look to the torque on the other side when the sector has a little bit more opportunity to go on offense.”

Canada’s biggest banks had a mixed expense picture in the quarter ended July 31, with lower operating and business development costs due to the pandemic offset by higher compensation costs.

BMO was halfway through the cuts announced in December when it put them on hold in February, White said.

It resumed the restructuring program last month and expects savings at the end of 2020 and into 2021, he said, adding they will keep expenses flat this year and next.

CIBC, which announced its restructuring program in February, hit pause at the height of the pandemic, but expects to complete them this quarter, and aims for expense growth of less than 5% in fiscal 2021, Chief Executive Victor Dodig said.

Bank of Nova Scotia has room for further cost cuts in its international markets, and the lender and Toronto-Dominion Bank are holding off on investments they do not need immediately, Brian Porter and Bharat Masrani, their respective CEOs, said.

TD will look “very seriously” at opportunities that could help grow its presence in the southeast United States, and those that will build assets, Masrani said.

Royal Bank of Canada will continue investing in smaller ventures that it can scale up, Chief Executive Dave McKay said, citing challenges with integrating larger acquisitions. (Reporting By Nichola Saminather Editing by Chris Reese and Steve Orlofsky)

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