I began my investing career as a financial advisor with AXA
At the time, the Premier Growth Fund was a concentrated portfolio with maybe a few dozen holdings, skippered by a hotshot Minneapolis-based money manager named Al Harrison. In its heyday, Premier Growth was no stranger to the top quartile of the large-cap growth world, but Harrison miscalculated on a stock called Enron. To be sure, many funds held a position in the beleaguered company, but with 16.7 million shares, or 4.1% of the funds' assets, nobody had a larger stake -- and Harrison rode it all the way to the bottom.
Unfortunately, the Enron debacle was only the beginning. Soon after, Alliance was exposed as one of the largest institutional owners of soon-to-be-bankrupt WorldCom, with a collective 209 million shares as of March 2002. It was also the second-largest bondholder -- trailing only Prudential
Why, then, do I still own Alliance Capital funds in my own IRA, when many bolted for the door? The company has shown some repentance for its questionable behavior, and it has committed to enacting numerous reforms: dismissing several executives, revamping compliance efforts, making mutual fund boards more independent, paying a $250 million fine, and agreeing to a much-needed 20% reduction in many funds' expense ratios.
I still find a select few of Alliance's funds to be attractive, but, ironically, the company itself may be the most promising investment. Since Mathew Emmert singled it out as a Motley Fool Income Investor pick last August, Alliance's 32.54% total return has trounced the S&P's 7.67%
Alliance is a giant in the money management business, with more than $539 billion (up 12.9% from a year ago) in assets under management. With those assets invested in virtually every nook and cranny of the market, it has little exposure to any one-asset class, unlike, say, Janus
So how does all this translate to the bottom line? Well, fourth-quarter earnings released yesterday jumped 22% to $0.82 per unit (Alliance is operated as Master Limited Partnership) from $0.54 the year before (excluding settlement charges), easily cruising past expectations by more than a dime. The company gathered more than $9 billion in net new assets during the quarter, with each channel -- institutional, retail, and private client -- reporting net cash inflows.
Despite cresting at a 52-week peak today, the company still trades at less than 19 times last year's earnings, with a hefty yield approaching 5%. With recent benchmark-topping performance likely to attract even more assets going forward, there is more than one way to capitalize on Alliance Capital.