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Low-fee BlackRock funds reel in cash but earnings disappoint

Stock MarketsJul 17, 2017 08:22PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO - Larry Fink, Chief Executive Officer of BlackRock, takes part in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit in New York

By Trevor Hunnicutt

NEW YORK (Reuters) - BlackRock Inc's (N:BLK) second-quarter results failed to impress Wall Street on Monday as the world's biggest asset manager cut fees to lure a wave of investor cash into its exchange-traded funds, sending shares down more than 3 percent.

Investors of all types have been piling into ETFs and dumping more expensive alternatives, and BlackRock's fees on some products have raced toward zero while competitors like Vanguard Group and Charles Schwab Corp (N:SCHW) offer ETFs at or near the cost of managing them.

New York-based BlackRock's largely index-tracking iShares ETFs pulled in a record $74 billion during the most recent quarter, up from $16 billion a year earlier. Overall flows totaled $104 billion, compared to just $7 billion a year ago.

Assets under management jumped 16 percent to nearly $5.7 trillion, but revenue gained just 6 percent to $2.97 billion and earnings per share rose 10 percent to $5.22, or $5.24 after adjusting for non-recurring items and other charges.

That fell short of analysts' average target of earnings per share of $5.40 and $3.02 billion in revenue, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, and the company acknowledged that fees were lighter due to "previously announced pricing changes."

The company's shares were last down more than 3 percent at $424.67.

FEE CUTS

BlackRock announced a major cut for its ETFs last October and just last week lowered fees to $9 a year from $27 for every $10,000 an investor holds on a $10 billion iShares mortgage-backed securities ETF (P:MBB).

BlackRock Chief Financial Officer Gary Shedlin said on a conference call that the company has recouped "over 75 percent" of lost revenue from the October fee cuts thanks to a growing investor base.

Already benefiting from a move by wealth advisers and brokers to use low-fee products, BlackRock has been looking for growth from burgeoning groups of clients such as insurers.

Chief Executive Larry Fink said on a conference call with analysts that the ETF industry's growth potential reminded him of his younger days in the 1970s developing the mortgage-backed securities market.

Edward D Jones & Co LP analyst Kyle Sanders said he had expected higher revenues this quarter because international markets performed strongly and BlackRock can charge higher fees on products focused abroad.

"If there ever was a quarter for this to work out, it was this quarter," said Sanders, discussing the revenue shortfall. "The trend is here to stay, and it's going to bleed out."

BlackRock's revenue has not topped analysts' estimates since the fourth quarter of 2015, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Revenues were lower in part because "episodic" performance fees had declined, Fink told Reuters. Higher-cost actively managed products earn those fees only when they beat their targets.

Fink also touted technology and risk management fees that rose 12 percent to $164 million.

"All the drivers that we really control that can grow quarter over quarter over quarter - the momentum is accelerating, not decelerating," Fink said.

"When you think about where we're taking the firm we're very happy."

Net income rose 8.6 percent in the most recent quarter to $857 million.

Michael Venuto, chief investment officer of Toroso Investments LLC, which recently launched an index tracking the performance of asset managers, said BlackRock cut fees to "respond to the Vanguard phenomenon" but that they are also creating higher-value ETFs that will eventually boost the company's profit margins.

"They're an innovator," Venuto said.

TIGHT LEASH

The company has kept a tight leash on expenses, using investments in technology to deliver long-run savings. In a statement, Fink credited technology with helping to drive down the cost of executing a typical BlackRock trade by 80 percent over the last 5 years.

And BlackRock's performance has improved in a few key areas, including in stockpicking funds that have been a source of concern.

Seventy-six percent of BlackRock equity assets are in funds with a top-half performance ranking over three years, up 36 percent from a year ago, according to a Credit Suisse Group AG (S:CSGN) analysis of Lipper and Simfund data.

Still, outflows accelerated in stock funds BlackRock had announced plans to revamp in March. BlackRock said then it would cut fees, rebrand, change portfolio managers or rely more on data-crunching for a number of equity products.

Those funds posted $775 million in withdrawals last quarter, up from $567 million the quarter prior, according to Morningstar Inc. The analysis did not include funds that were liquidated or merged or for which no flows data were available.

During the conference call, BlackRock executives said they anticipated the outflows and that it was too early to measure progress because some changes did not take effect until June.

Low-fee BlackRock funds reel in cash but earnings disappoint
 

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