BlackRock signals M&A hunger after sharp drop in inflows

By Jaiveer Shekhawat and David Randall

(Reuters) -A sharp drop in net inflows took shares of BlackRock down around 1% on Friday despite the company handily beating third-quarter profit estimates, as the world’s largest asset manager signaled that it was increasing its hunt for acquisition targets.

A rise in investment advisory fees and BlackRock’s assets under management (AUM) helped the company’s adjusted profit of $10.91 per share breeze past analysts’ estimates of $8.26, according to LSEG data. However, its net inflows for the quarter fell to $2.57 billion from $16.9 billion last year, reflecting $49 billion of net outflows from lower-fee institutional index equity strategies, including $19 billion from a single international client.

BlackRock ended the third quarter with $9.10 trillion in assets under management (AUM), up from $7.96 trillion a year earlier, but lower than $9.4 trillion in the second quarter this year.

“For the first time in nearly two decades, clients are earning a real return in cash and can wait for more policy and market certainty before re-risking. This dynamic weighed on the industry and BlackRock’s third-quarter flows,” CEO Larry Fink said in a statement.

BlackRock, whose spending on mergers and acquisitions has been below its norms over the last five years, is engaged in more deal talks than it has been in “many, many years,” Fink told analysts on the company’s earnings call.

A significant acquisition would follow the company’s track record of purchasing new assets to increase growth during periods of market weakness, said Kyle Sanders, an analyst at Edward Jones.

“They seem to be inching for a big deal, and Larry is probably hunting for elephants right now,” he said.

Shares of BlackRock are down nearly 12% for the year to date, well below the 13.2% gain in the benchmark S&P 500 over the same time.

Hopes that the Federal Reserve could soon be done with its monetary tightening have helped calm investor worries about a potential recession, yet signals from the central bank that it will keep its benchmark interest rate higher for longer have weighed on bond prices, pushing yields near 16-year highs.

The firm’s results “underscore continued pressure on industry organic growth that may last longer than currently reflected in investors’ expectations amid higher-for-longer short-term rates,” analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote in a report Friday.

They reiterated Goldman’s buy rating on the stock and its 12-month target price of $726. “While we are encouraged by the firm’s sharper focus on expenses, we expect (BlackRock’s) near-term organic base fee growth to remain muted.”

Investors are likely waiting for yields to peak before making any significant changes in their asset allocation, BlackRock said.

“The long-term trend of clients consolidating more of their portfolios with BlackRock is only accelerating, and underlying business momentum remains strong,” Fink said.

Fink, who said at the company’s investor day in June that he has no plans to retire, did not give any update on the company’s succession plans.

“I’m sticking around, I have more energy,” he said in an interview on CNBC.

Questions over the length of Fink’s tenure and eventual successor will likely become a more important issue for investors as the company expands its offerings in technology services, said Cathy Seifert, an analyst at CFRA.

“I think the firm is at an inflection point, and it will be interesting to see how they grow over the next 12 to 18 months,” she said.

Revenue at BlackRock rose nearly 5% to $4.52 billion from a year earlier, driven by organic growth and the impact of market movements over the past 12 months on average AUM and higher technology services revenue, it said.

The New York-based company’s chief source of revenue is the management fees it earns as a percentage of the total AUM.

(Reporting by Jaiveer Singh Shekhawat in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath and Jonathan Oatis)


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