RBC says too early to know impact of coronavirus, blockades

Royal Bank of Canada is monitoring the recent, novel coronavirus outbreak and rail blockades across the country, but says it’s too early to see the full impact of either yet.

Graeme Hepworth, the Toronto-based bank’s chief risk officer, said Friday he is watching the new form of the coronavirus, which has spread to a handful of Canadians and tens of thousands more around the globe, because it exposes RBC to multiple dangers.

“First and foremost, it’s just the health and safety of our employees and then ensuring that we have the operational continuity and resiliency to work through this period and work through a period where it could potentially get worse,” he said. “And then we look at the financial side of it.”

He noted RBC does not operate in Mainland China, so the bank has no direct exposure to the affects of the outbreak there, but the bank could feel the impact of “the Chinese consumer kind of disappearing for a period” and disruptions to supply chains because of China’s prominence in manufacturing.

Hepworth said the bank is evaluating the sectors it thinks are most impacted and engaging with its clients around the issue, “but the reality is that this is too early, too soon to really have a view as to the real impact here.”

“It’s going to really depend on the duration of this and the severity going forward and right now, that’s highly uncertain,” he said. “We’re not seeing any impacts in our portfolio at this point in time, so we are monitoring in potential.”

Hepworth’s outlook was much the same, when asked opponents to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, who have blocked rail lines in Ontario, Quebec and B.C., causing CN Rail to suspend service and Via Rail to cancel dozens of passenger trains.

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