Stock pickers may be under siege after decades of ruling Wall Street, but not every old-school champion of active mutual funds is losing ground to cheaper rivals tracking indexes.
T. Rowe Price Group is one of the rare winners.
The 82-year-old company, which built its reputation sifting standouts and laggards in U.S. equities, has seen assets under management swell to just over $1 trillion from about $400 billion at the start of the decade. That means it stayed abreast of the long bull market even as peers including Franklin Resources and Legg Mason suffered outflows and revenue declines.
With its focus on plain old stock funds in retirement accounts, Baltimore-based T. Rowe is an unlikely success in an era when the likes of BlackRock and Vanguard Group are luring investors looking to make low-cost bets on broadly rising markets. But the firm, whose informal motto is "get rich slow," has thrived by establishing itself in an area that's yet to embrace exchange-traded funds.
"They decided early on that they'd focus on one niche part of the market, and that's really helped them," said Greggory Warren, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. "Combined with their dedication to investment performance, they've done a lot of the right things historically."
About two-thirds of T. Rowe's assets under management are held in retirement-related products. The firm started offering funds in company-sponsored defined contribution plans in 1974 and today sits among the top 10 providers of record-keeping services for 401(k)s — a role tracking employee investments in a company's retirement plan. Its funds are also available on platforms managed by other providers.
"Defined contribution is an important marketplace for us," CEO Bill Stromberg said in an interview.
About 4,600 retirement plan sponsors were using T. Rowe's platform at the end of 2018, according to the company.
"Those are sticky, high quality assets," said Robert Lee, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods who rates T. Rowe's own shares "market perform."
Index-tracking products such as exchange-traded funds aren't as popular in retirement accounts like 401(k) plans, where their tax advantages aren't relevant.