BlackRock's active gambit ups pressure on rivals

Fri Mar 31, 2017 3:21pm EDT
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By Trevor Hunnicutt and Tim McLaughlin

NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) - BlackRock Inc's (BLK.N: Quote) decision to revamp part of its stock-picking business puts further pressure on active U.S. equity managers to cut fees, change products and merge to stem a relentless, 12-year decline in assets.

BlackRock is replacing a handful of portfolio managers and doubling down on an investment in computer models and data science to boost returns and cut fees. The moves affect about 11 percent of its $275 billion active stock fund business but are a drop in the ocean for the company, the world's largest asset manager.

Roughly two-thirds of its $5 trillion in assets under management and half its fee income come from index-tracking funds and exchange-traded funds, products investors are flocking to for superior returns and cheaper management fees.

For rivals heavily reliant on active stock pickers, hiring computer geniuses to develop investing models and spending more on data mining may not be a cost-effective way of boosting performance.

Axing portfolio managers can also trigger investor withdrawals.

"This is a little experiment for BlackRock but bad news for a lot of players in the market," said Kyle Sanders, a stock analyst for Edward Jones.

The pain could be concentrated among smaller, active fund managers reliant on fleet-footed retail investors. Mangers of larger funds can put more money into their investment process and tend to have more institutional clients willing to endure a period of underperformance.

But even larger companies are at risk.   Continued...

The company logo and trading information for BlackRock is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid