Growth in BlackRock ETFs likely to slow

Company is trying to diversify into higher-fee alternatives, build out tech platform

Apr 12, 2018 @ 12:54 pm

By Bloomberg News

Even as BlackRock Inc.'s assets advanced to $6.3 trillion and its growth appears unstoppable, there are signs the firm isn't invincible.

Net flows for its global iShares exchange-traded funds declined 46% in the first quarter, to $34.6 billion from a year earlier. Yet, the world's largest asset manager's earnings beat estimates, which pushed the shares up as much as 2.8%.

Choppy markets spurred traders to devote less cash to ETFs, by far the company's biggest revenue generator, and some moved into lower-costs products. ETFs charging 0.2% or less have accounted for 82% of the industry's net flows this year, up from 77% in the fourth quarter, according to research from Bloomberg Intelligence.

Laurence D. Fink, BlackRock's chief executive officer, said investors moved money in the quarter because of a spike in market volatility and changes in U.S. tax law.

"The performance of ETFs validated the use of them," Mr. Fink said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

Growth in BlackRock's ETF business will likely be more subdued compared with that of the last several years. The money manager came to dominate the market as brokers poured cash into ETFs in anticipation of a rule requiring them to put clients' interests ahead of their own when handling retirement investments.

Growth challenges

"Sustaining growth at double digits in terms of asset flows will be really tough to do" for BlackRock, said Kyle Sanders, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co.

Still, analysts say that BlackRock's ETFs held up well, given the circumstances of the markets. Advisers continued to allocate money to the products.

"It shows that these passive structures are here to stay, and people will buy them whether the market is good or bad," said Mr. Sanders.

As BlackRock's less expensive ETFs continue to capture most of the money, that could put pressure on revenue. In October 2016, the firm reduced prices on 15 core ETFs aimed at price-sensitive retail clients and financial advisers. The money manager is betting that it can offset any fee cuts with greater volume.

"I think that is why, in the short-term, seeing money go to this low-cost stuff might be tough, but it sets them up better for the future," said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Eric Balchunas.

With a good chunk of its assets sitting in passive structures, BlackRock is trying to diversify into higher-fee alternative offerings and building out its technology business. The firm is depending on its risk-management system, known as Aladdin, to help with its technology push.

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