Northern Trust: Gloss and Grit

Northern Trust (Nasdaq: NTRS  ) started out as a private bank in 1889. Its reputation stems from its glossy wealth and asset management businesses -- estimated to include 22% of the Forbes 400. But it also has a grittier custodian business, based on servicing high volumes of securities, which now drives the bulk of its revenues.

On Wednesday, Northern Trust announced 2006 fourth-quarter earnings per share of $0.77 on net income of $170.8 million, a 15% increase over 2005 fourth-quarter results. (See our Fool by Numbers for all the vital statistics.) For the full year 2006, revenues increased 14% to $3.06 billion. 2006 net income rose 14% to a record $665 million. Return on shareholders' equity in 2006 was 17.6%, up from 15.3% in 2005.

Results from the gritty and glossy businesses were both strong. Nearly 60% of Northern Trust's total revenues come from servicing fees. Assets under custody, which grew 21% to a record $3.5 trillion in fourth-quarter 2006, drive these fees. Northern Trust's wealth management business grew its assets under management by 13% to $697 billion in fourth-quarter 2006. Northern Trust also earns nearly $800 million a year of revenue from managing its net interest margin. The firm's net interest margin fell by six basis points in fourth-quarter 2006 compared to 2005.

You don't need to be glossy and super-rich to own this stock. Northern Trust has resisted faddish business strategies, instead sticking to investment management, asset servicing, and cosseting the ultra-rich. Yet Northern Trust, along with its competitor State Street (NYSE: STT  ) , is well-positioned against several growth trends in the investment services and management industries. First, though lower than State Street's, Northern Trust's international operations still produce about 30% of total earnings. Outsourcing of middle- and back-office operations continues to grow, especially in Europe, and Northern Trust is well-positioned against this trend. Second, the historic Northern Trust brand coupled with a single, modern operations and technology platform supporting all its businesses will allow the firm to perform well as the market for wealth service grows, especially in serving investors with more than $10 million to invest.

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Northern Trust has a solid four-star rating in Motley Fool CAPS. Get in the game by telling us what you think of the stock.

Fool contributor John Finneran writes and advises on increasing the financial value of technology. He is ranked 102 out of 20,286 in CAPS and does not own any of the shares mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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