TORONTO — Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) plans to open 50 new branches in New York City alone within four years, as the Canadian bank bets heavily on the U.S. to grow future earnings amid tight competition in its home market, its top executive said Thursday.

"TD has big plans in the Big Apple," TD Chief Executive Edmund Clark said from the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan, where the bank's Toronto annual meeting was being simulcast live by video conference. "In four years, we want to be New York's third-largest retail bank."

For the first time in its history, the bank's top executives weren't physically at the annual meeting in Canada, underscoring the growing importance of the U.S. to the lender's future growth, particularly as super-low interest rates squeeze domestic profit margins. By law, federally chartered banks must hold their annual meetings in Canada. TD, which has more branches in the U.S. than Canada, was careful to ensure the meeting met legal requirements. It went to extensive lengths to ensure the video-conferencing simulcast in two countries would go off without a hitch, and that shareholders in either country could participate live.

"It's a really symbolic way of saying we are a North American bank, anchored firmly in Canada," Clark said.

Toronto-based TD has fewer shareholders by number in Canada than in the U.S., but they hold more stock. According to FactSet, the bank has more than twice as many U.S. shareholders than Canadian. But, Canadians hold almost half of TD's outstanding shares, compared with 14% held by Americans.

Brian Levitt, TD chairman, chaired the meeting in Toronto, while Chief Executive Clark and most of the board's other directors were in New York, where TD hopes to catapult to No. 3 by deposits from No. 5 in four years, without making any acquisitions. In New York, it currently has US$11.6 billion in deposits, with its 2 Wall Street branch, opened six years ago, having more than US$1 billion in deposits. "This one location has more deposits than 93% of all banks in the US," Clark said.

TD, only one of three other banks in the world with a triple-A rating from Moody's Investors Service, has over the past two years expanded down the U.S. eastern seaboard into Florida with four acquisitions, and broke into the auto-leasing business. It recently also looked at buying BankUnited Inc. (BKU), but the asking price was too steep, a person familar with the matter said. Toronto-based TD also owns about 45% of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. (AMTD), the third-largest U.S. discount broker.

The U.S. bank accounted for 20% of TD's 2011 earnings.

TD plans to open 30 more branches in the U.S. fiscal 2012 and another 30 in Canada.

Clark, who turns 65 this year, isn't retiring anytime soon, Levitt said. His employment contract runs until TD's annual meeting next year. Levitt said the next CEO will come from within the bank.

"While I am in the final years of my tenure as CEO, I am in no hurry to leave," Clark said.

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