Market turmoil hits BlackRock's bottom line in fourth quarter

NEW YORK (Reuters) - BlackRock Inc BLK.N, the world's largest fund manager, reported a smaller-than-expected quarterly profit on Wednesday due to financial market turmoil, but investors celebrated the company's strong sales of relatively low-fee funds.

FILE PHOTO - A sign for BlackRock Inc hangs above their building in New York U.S., July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD

Sinking performance in late 2018 led investors to pull cash from the company’s typically higher fee funds aimed at beating the market but people put record cash in the company’s generally lower-cost exchange traded funds (ETFs).

Overall, the company sold $43.6 billion in stock, bond and other “long-term” investment funds, more than the $10.6 billion sold the quarter prior.

Still, weaker investment performance and the company’s own price cuts hurt. The company collects fees as a percentage of assets under management, which are now just under $6 trillion.

The S&P 500 .SPX fell more than 10 percent in the three months ended Dec. 31.

Money that the company earned for hitting certain performance targets and for lending out shares to people betting against stocks fell from the year prior.

“There are moments you can’t control what clients are doing, when clients are de-risking. We saw that in 2018, but that does not deter the conversations we’re having with our clients,” BlackRock Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink told Reuters. “We’re investing more money in the future than any other asset management company.”

Fink said the company continued to see opportunities to grow, including helping Chinese individuals save and selling technology services to other financial companies. People are also flocking to the company’s iShares ETFs to get cheap exposure to various parts of the market.

The iShares group took in $81 billion in the quarter, compared with $34 billion in the quarter prior.

BlackRock’s stock is down nearly a third from an all-time high near $600 per share last year, declining more than 21 percent in 2018. The stock rose 4.3 percent to $418 on Wednesday as a broader rally pushed U.S. stock indexes higher.

Analysts seemed pleased with the average level of fees BlackRock was able to charge as well as continued success at winning new assets.

“We see the silver lining,” said Edward Jones analyst Kyle Sanders. “This was a reaffirmation to investors that BlackRock is differentiated with iShares.”

Net income fell to $927 million, or $5.78 per share, in the quarter, from $2.30 billion, or $14.01 per share, a year earlier, when U.S. corporate tax cuts helped. Analysts, on average, expected $6.27 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Excluding restructuring charges and other items, the company earned $6.08 per share.

BlackRock sliced expenses, but not as fast as its revenues fell. The company said last week it was cutting about 500 jobs, or 3 percent of its workforce, and booked a $60 million restructuring charge in the quarter. Total staff is still expected to be higher than a year ago following the cuts.

Fink told Reuters he did not expect additional “restructuring” or to make a significant asset management deal to boost growth, though he did suggest BlackRock could buy a technology company.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Diptendu Lahiri in Bengaluru; Editing by Jennifer Ablan, Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe