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Which Is a Better Dividend Investment: Bank of Montreal or Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce?

The Canadian banks have been on a tear in the first two weeks of April and investors are wondering if all the warnings of dire market conditions over the past few months were just a case of fear mongering.

Let’s take a look at Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO)(NYSE:BMO) and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (TSX:CM)(NYSE:CM) to see if one should go into your portfolio right now.

Bank of Montreal

Canada’s oldest bank has been rewarding investors with consistent dividends for the past 186 years. That’s no typo; it’s true!

Despite the solid history of distributions, BMO is often overlooked in favour of its three larger peers. This could prove to be a mistake because the bank’s strategy of diversifying its revenue stream is starting to pay off.

For the first quarter of 2015, Bank of Montreal reported net income of $1 billion. That’s a nice chunk of change, but the market initially didn’t like the number because it was 6% lower than Q1 2014.

Once you look at the full picture, though, things were actually pretty good in most areas. BMO Capital Markets, which delivered 20% less income than it did in the same period the year before, was the only weak division in the bank. Activities in the capital markets space tend to be more volatile than the other divisions and investors shouldn’t worry too much about one bad quarter.

The standout performance came from south of the border and this is where the long-term growth looks good. Bank of Montreal has roughly 600 branches located in the U.S. Midwest operating under the name of BMO Harris Bank. Year-over-year earnings from the U.S. operations increased by 14% in Q1 2015, led by solid loan growth on the commercial side as well as gains in the currency spread.

As the U.S. economy continues to improve, Bank of Montreal and its shareholders should benefit.

Bank of Montreal pays a dividend of $3.20 per share that yields about 4%. The stock trades at 11.2 times forward earnings and 1.4 times book value.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce

Canada’s smallest member of the big five banks has a reputation for being less disciplined and more risky than its peers. Investors can be forgiven for tiptoeing around the bank after it took a massive $10 billion in write-downs connected to bad bets on U.S. subprime mortgages.

In recent years, management has focused heavily on bread-and-butter Canadian retail banking in an effort to shed that image. Today, the bank is actually one of the more conservative members in the group of five, but the reliance on Canada also has its issues. CIBC is now considered the most exposed to a downturn in the Canadian economy and the possible bursting of a Canadian housing bubble.

In fact, Canadian retail and business banking represented about 62% of CIBC’s Q1 2015 earnings. The company finished the quarter with $153 billion in Canadian retail mortgages on the books and about 17% of the loans are located in Alberta. In the earnings report the company said it had almost $30 billion in lending exposure to the oil and gas sector as of January 31.

These numbers have some analysts concerned, but CIBC is very well capitalized with a Basel III Common Equity Tier 1 Ratio of 10.3%. This means the company is more than capable of handling a gradual slowdown in the housing market as well as any difficulties coming from the oil patch.

CIBC pays a dividend of $4.24 per share that yields about 4.4%. The stock trades at 10 times forward earning and 2.1 times book value. The company just increased the dividend, which sends a strong message that management is comfortable with its risk profile.

Which should you buy?

Both stocks are solid long-term picks. Bank of Montreal offers a better revenue mix, which should help it weather difficult times in Canada.

At the moment, CIBC offers a higher yield. If you think fears about the Canadian economy and the oil rout are overdone, CIBC is a more attractive pick. Otherwise, go with Bank of Montreal.

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Fool contributor Andrew Walker has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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