Not to be missed in the parade of asset-manager earnings, BlackRock (NYSE: BLK ) recently reported a 176% jump in first-quarter net income. Sounds pretty impressive, no? Well, not too many Wall Street analysts agree.
That profit figure translates to $1.59 per share, excluding certain charges relating to its merger last October with the money-management unit of Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER ) , and expenses related to starting new closed-end funds and for real estate syndication. Many expected earnings per share to ring up a few pennies higher, and shares have dropped 6.7% since just before the firm's earnings announcement almost two weeks ago.
Taking a further peek at the financials reveals that revenue increased to $1.01 billion from $395.7 million a year ago, down slightly from the prior quarter. This decline is blamed on lower performance fees, the impact of two fewer days, and a lower fee mix for equities. Not surprisingly, given the growth in the firm's headcount from 1,800 to 5,000, operating expenses climbed 148%.
On the bright side, assets under management now total $1.2 trillion, up 7.4% since the Merrill merger and 2.6% since the end of the fourth quarter. All asset classes experienced positive net flows, and management is upbeat about its new business pipeline and about positive synergies already realized from the merger.
BlackRock's perceived black eye stems from its previous roll of several strong quarters of earnings and double-digit revenue growth. But BlackRock is not the same company it was before the Merrill deal. Its merger represented not just an expansion of business, but also an alteration of the firm from largely an institutional bond shop to a major player complete with a significant distribution network for its enlarged suite of equity and fixed-income products for both retail and institutional clients.
That kind of makeover needs time for the integration of many issues, ranging from operational and systemic matters to corporate culture. The company also has to prove it can capitalize on its global distribution force by providing competitive performance through its products. It's time to give BlackRock time to prove whether the good times will continue to roll or whether its transformation will make it veer off course.
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