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Power Financial Q1 profit takes hit from investment writedown, weaker earnings

MONTREAL – Power Financial Corp. has reported a more than 50 per cent drop in first-quarter profit, largely because of a big writedown on one of its investments, along with weaker operating earnings from its two main subsidiaries — Great-West Life and IGM Financial.

The Montreal-based company (TSX:PWF) said net income dropped to $259 million or 36 cents per share from $573 million or 80 cents per share.

“It was a bad quarter, that’s for sure,” CEO Jeffrey Orr told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting.

Power Financial is the main subsidiary of Power Corporation of Canada (TSX:POW), which primarily owns life insurance and wealth management companies with smaller investments in media properties, including Montreal’s La Presse, and other industries.

Often it can count on stronger markets, for example, to offset low interest rates. But Orr said “everything was against the companies” this quarter.

The quarter included a $217-million non-operating charge from an indirect investment in LafargeHolcim, a multinational construction materials company based in Europe. That was partly offset by a $101-million gain from the partial sale of an investment in Total SA, the French oil and gas giant.

The writedown reflects the lower market value of the Lafarge investment caused by investor concerns about the integration of last year’s large merger, weakness in stock markets and exposure in emerging markets that have been weak for 18 months, Orr later told reporters.

“It’s just a confluence of affairs but…we created a great company there and we have a lot of confidence in its long-term future.”

Meanwhile, Orr said Power Financial will invest more in the fintech sector this year to keep on top of how technology is used in new investment products, which are putting pressure on established companies.

It spent $30 million on Wealthsimple — described by Orr as Canada’s largest automated investing service or robo adviser — and smaller amounts in six other small startups in 2015.

“We hope to gain good profits on these investments but also important is what we learn … how our other businesses like Great-West, IGM and others will need to change their business models in the future.”

Power Financial’s parent company holds an investment in The Canadian Press as part of a joint agreement with a subsidiary of the Globe and Mail and TorStar Corp.