Should You Buy Bank of Nova Scotia or Royal Bank of Canada for Your RRSP?

Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX:BNS)(NYSE:BNS) and Royal Bank of Canada (TSX:RY)(NYSE:RY) are both trading at very attractive levels. Is one a better RRSP pick?

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Canadian investors often turn to the banks when choosing new stocks for their RRSP accounts.

Let’s take a look at Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX:BNS)(NYSE:BNS) and Royal Bank of Canada (TSX:RY)(NYSE:RY) to see if one is a better pick right now.

Bank of Nova Scotia

Bank of Nova Scotia is Canada’s third-largest bank and it has the most exposure to international markets.

The company runs full-service operations in more than 30 countries, but its main focus outside of Canada is on Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile. These four countries represent the core of the Pacific Alliance, a trade bloc set up to enable the free movement of capital and goods among the member states.

Bank of Nova Scotia’s big bets on this region are starting to pay off. Year-over-year income from the international operations rose 33% in Q4 2015 to $504 million. Deposits rose by 19% and loan growth hit 17%.

In Canada, the bank is also delivering solid results. Adjusted net income in Q4 was 10% higher than the same period last year, hitting $837 million. Deposits increased 5% and loans rose 3% compared with Q4 2014.

Total Q4 2015 profits came in at more than $1.84 billion, and the company raked in $7.2 billion for the full year. That’s not bad considering the headwinds facing the Canadian banks.

Bank of Nova Scotia raised its dividend by 6% in 2015. The current quarterly payout of $0.70 per share yields about 5.3%.

The stock is trading at 9.5 times trailing earnings and 1.3 times book value. This is a steep discount to the 11.8 times earnings and 1.9 times book the stock has averaged over the past five years.

Royal Bank

Royal Bank is also delivering solid results in a difficult market.

The bank reported Q4 2015 net income of just under $2.6 billion, an 11% increase over the same period in 2014. Full-year 2015 profits hit $10 billion.

During the fourth quarter Royal Bank closed its US$5 billion acquisition of California-based City National Corp., a private and commercial bank that serves wealthy clients. The deal is important because it provides Royal Bank with a strong platform to expand its presence in the United States at a time when interest rates are beginning to rise and the U.S. dollar is extremely strong. This should have a positive impact on earnings in 2016 and beyond.

Royal Bank increased its dividend by 8% in 2015. The quarterly payout of $0.79 per share yields about 4.7%.

The stock currently trades at 10 times trailing earnings and 1.7 times book value, which are also much lower than the five-year averages.

Which should you buy?

Both stocks look very attractive right now and deserve to be top RRSP picks.

If you want the best dividend yield and like the growth opportunities in Latin America, Bank of Nova Scotia is the way to go. Royal Bank is a solid choice if you prefer to own a larger company and want exposure to growth in the U.S. wealth management segment.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium service or advisor. We’re Motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer, so we sometimes publish articles that may not be in line with recommendations, rankings or other content.

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

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