BlackRock (NYSE:BLK) posted fourth-quarter and full-year 2012 results yesterday that handily trounced analyst estimates, broke records, and made the company's shareholders a little richer through a dividend boost. As a result, its stock smashed through the ceiling to reach a multi-year high. This was well deserved, but investors should keep an eye out for developments under that dark stone.
One for the record books
The latest set of BlackRock earnings could be bronzed and put in a trophy case. The company posted several all-time highs for 2012, not least in bottom line. Net profit figures for both 4Q and fiscal 2012 were its best in history, and like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition, they were unexpected.
The quarter saw the firm's GAAP net rise by a fat 24% to $690 million; translated into a diluted per-share amount, this was $3.96. Not bad considering that the average analyst estimate was $3.73. On the subject of estimates, the collective analyst expectation of $2.49 billion in revenue for the quarter fell notably short of the actual $2.54 billion the company brought in.
Full-year bottom line, while not posting as big an increase as its quarterly little brother, nevertheless also advanced to hit a peak. It was up 5% over 2011's figure, to $2.46 billion ($13.79 diluted EPS). That was on the back of revenue that, yes, also increased (by 3% to $9.3 billion).
Last but nowhere near least, assets under management -- a critical number for this business -- also hit a record. They grew by 8% to a hard-to-imagine total of $3.8 trillion.
This performance left room for that happiest of gifts for shareholders: a dividend increase. BlackRock juiced its payout by 12% to $1.68 for the quarter, for still another record. If annualized, that rate equates to a dividend yield just under 3%, which easily bests other large financials involved in the asset management space -- Legg Mason stands at 1.6%, for instance, while State Street is currently at 1.9%.
BlackRock's purring growth motor in recent times has been its iShares family of exchange-traded funds, a smart acquisition it made in 2009 that has constituted an increasing share of the company's overall take.
ETFs have enjoyed a leap in popularity of late and the firm is taking full advantage. Management fees for the iShares titles grew a collective 23% on a year-over-year basis last quarter, and by 10% for all of 2012. Last year, a full 30% of the company's total base fees were derived from iShares. That was three percentage points higher than in 2011.
The increased monies from captaining that group of funds do, however, mask the fact that fees from the company's "active" (i.e., traditional asset management) offerings aren't rising as much. The total from active equity declined over the previous year, and notably so -- it was down by 11%, to $1.75 billion. This is cause for some concern, as that amount is nearly as much as what the company takes in from its equity ETF fees.
Active fixed-income is doing better, but not at an iShares-type level. That category advanced 7% on an annual basis in 2012. Compared to the 36% shown by the fund manager's fixed-income offerings, that's fairly weak.
Buying some Credit
Still, on an overall basis, BlackRock had a fine 4Q and 2012, with those funds really stoking the fire. And the company doesn't have to rely entirely on organic growth; earlier this month, it came to light that it bought even more ETFs. The seller was European financial major Credit Suisse (NYSE: CS), which unloaded 58 titles worth around $17.6 billion in an auction last fall.
The deal boosted BlackRock's already-considerable fund count. At the time, it had over 600 ETFs; with the Credit Suisse buy, this number should grow to something like 664. It'll also give the company a firmer toehold in Europe -- it's already the leading ETF manager on the continent with over 200 iShares titles pegged to Euro-assets.
But BlackRock's new set of toys is somewhat of a black box. The sale price hasn't yet been revealed, so it's hard to say what kind of impact it has had and will have on the company's results going forward. Not to mention the contribution it'll make to those all-important fund fees. Doubtless it's a well-timed and complimentary acquisition; how much so remains to be seen.
Another factor to keep a bit of an eye on is fee trends in the ETF segment. Last year, smaller but no less hungry ETF managers began to reduce what they charged fund holders to manage their titles. Some were quite aggressive in that pursuit -- Charles Schwab notched a record when it sliced the fees for two of its funds to hit the lowest annual expense ratios in the sector, at 0.04% each.
BlackRock seems reluctant to chop much, lowering fees for only a handful of its titles while compensating somewhat by announcing a raise for a bunch of its foreign ETFs. The flows into iShares indicate that fee level isn't a key concern for fund holders; however, that may change if the price war intensifies and the company can no longer resist enduring a haircut.
Overall, though, BlackRock posted a very pleasing set of results for its most recent quarter and fiscal year. If it can keep up that momentum, seamlessly integrate the Credit Suisse titles into its portfolio, and escape damage from the fee war, it should continue to deliver.
Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends BlackRock. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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