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Money management

T. Rowe Price in midst of major growth plan

Firm adding to multiasset, DCIO units; also planning ambitious non-U.S. path

Keith Lewis
Keith Lewis wants to expand beyond the U.S. borders, and analysts say that’s a smart move.

(updated with correction)

T. Rowe Price Group Inc. is expanding its institutional business, domestically and abroad.

The Baltimore-based company is building its defined contribution investment-only business and multiasset class capabilities in the U.S. It also is looking to grow headcount in sales and client service by 10% to 15% annually over the next three years in the U.S. and has a similar growth target for international sales and client service.

“The DC and DB segments have the biggest growth potential for our global investment services business in North America,” said Keith Lewis, head of global investment services, Americas, for T. Rowe Price, in an interview in his office on March 7.

Assets managed from clients outside the U.S. accounts for approximately 5% of the firm's nearly $811 billion total AUM as of Dec. 31, Mr. Lewis said, adding the firm is “working hard to grow its institutional ... business globally.” He did not disclose target percentages.

Among the company's steps so far:

  • In February, T. Rowe Price agreed to acquire the $57 million Henderson High Yield Opportunities Fund and its six-person investment team from Henderson Global Investors.
  • In August, T. Rowe Price recruited two members for its institutional DCIO business in the U.S. to complement its traditional defined benefit oriented management team. Lorie Latham was named a senior DC strategist, while Michael Davis was named head of DC plan specialists for T. Rowe Price's institutional business.
  • T. Rowe Price added 12 team members to its $241 billion multiasset business as of Oct. 31, and plans to add another 20 before the end of this year.

Right direction

Analysts who cover T. Rowe Price are saying that push for global growth is a step in the right direction

“The market is pretty saturated in the U.S., so it's logical for them to look outside the U.S. for potential growth,” said Katie Reichart, a senior fund analyst at Morningstar Inc. and associate director of the equity strategies research team, Chicago. T. Rowe has been a presence in the U.S. for so long, “there's only so much for them to grow,” she said.

Robert Lee, a managing director and analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York, said in a phone interview that T. Rowe's upping their rate of investment in new product categories and new distribution, inside and outside the U.S., is a smart move, although he suggested perhaps the move “should have been started earlier.”

“These things take time,” he said. “You can't just flip a switch and say six months later, "Here we are.'”

He said that for years, T. Rowe has been a highly profitable company with good investment performance, which helped fuel its growth, including the position in the 401(k) market. P&I data show that as of year-end 2015, T. Rowe Price was the fourth largest DC money manager, managing $311.6 billion in DC assets.

However, as evidenced by the firm experiencing institutional outflows in 2013 and 2014, the industry has been evolving around the manager. Clients have increasingly been demanding strategies like multiasset class, where T. Rowe hadn't been as strong, as well as passive strategies, which isn't their specialty, he said.

“They recognized that they need to evolve if they want to get back into growth mode,” said Mr. Lee.

An anomaly

Mr. Lewis said the deal with Henderson was somewhat of an anomaly for the asset manager, which is known more for organic growth than acquisitions. A confluence of events made the deal an attractive one, he said. Henderson needed to sell the fund quickly because of its impending merger with Janus Capital, a former T. Rowe Price portfolio manager Kevin Loome was managing Henderson's high yield team, and T. Rowe Price had closed its own high-yield offering to new investors in April 2012, yet still faced client demand for the strategy.

“We're making sure that we build our capabilities to meet evolving client needs. Increasingly it's about providing solutions to client-specific outcomes as opposed to simply providing products,” said Mr. Lewis.

T. Rowe Price is targeting organic AUM growth of 1% to 3% over the next three to four years.

The company reported $810.8 billion in AUM as of Dec. 31, flat from three months earlier but up 6.3% from a year earlier, the company's earnings statement said Jan. 26.

Strong performance

Another analyst with whom P&I spoke, Mac Sykes from Gabelli & Co. in Rye, N.Y., suggested that, as an active manager, the firm's ability to compete on price and investment performance gives them an opportunity.

“They have not been immune to the industry forces around passive, which are more pronounced in the U.S. So, by going more international, they can diversify their business and hope to find a faster asset-gathering growth rate,” he said.

The company continues to see strong performance in its specialty, actively managed U.S. large-cap equity, which account for about 18% of its overall AUM. Data from the firm show its U.S. large-cap core equity strategy returned an annualized 10.08% for the three years ended Dec. 31, vs. 8.87% for its benchmark, the S&P 500. The strategy's annualized five-year return was 15.96%, vs. 14.66% for its benchmark. The strategy does not yet have a 10-year annualized return.

Meanwhile, its U.S. large-cap growth equity strategy returned an annualized 7.76% for the three years ended Dec. 31, vs. 8.55% for its benchmark, the Russell 1000 Growth index. The strategy's annualized five-year return was 16.59%, vs. 14.5% for its benchmark. Its 10-year annualized return was 9.6%, vs. 8.33% for its benchmark.

This article originally appeared in the March 20, 2017 print issue as, "T. Rowe Price in midst of major growth plan".