Schwab Posts Higher Profits, Lower Advisor Net Assets

Charles Schwab Corp. is still leading the race for advisor assets, but a muddled economic recovery is taking the steam out of its stride.

In its fourth-quarter earnings report yesterday, the company reported net new assets for its Schwab Advisor Services of $9.2 billion. That still is well ahead of competitor TD Ameritrade’s net new asset growth of about $6 billion. But Schwab’s asset growth rate is down 44 percent year over year and 13 percent from the previous quarter (Stripping out the $1.5 billion that came from Schwab’s late 2010 acquisition of Windhaven Investment Management, the year-over-year decline is actually larger.)

Total Schwab Advisor Services assets, the segment that works with RIAs, stood at $679 billion at the end of 2011, up 4 percent year over year. Total Schwab assets of $1.68 trillion at year end were up 7 percent from 2010.

The pace of growth in landing breakaway brokers is more muted at Schwab as well. The company said it drew 166 teams in 2011 with $12 billion, not sharply better than it did in 2010 when it landed 163 breakaway brokers with some $12.6 billion in assets. More than a third of the advisors who went independent with Schwab joined from an existing RIA firm; 36 percent came from the IBD channel and 33 percent from wirehouses.

Comparisons with other custodians are difficult where breakaways are concerned; TD Ameritrade said it attracted a record 241 individual breakaway brokers to its platform in fiscal 2011, though it didn’t release the value of their books of business.

“Schwab’s financial performance is not immune to the challenges posed by the current economic environment, which led to sequential declines in all of our major revenue lines in the fourth quarter,” Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger said in the company’s earings release. Yet earnings were up sharply, excluding a charge. The company posted net income of $163 million, or 13 cents a share, on net revenues of $1.11 billion; for the comparable quarter a year earlier, it had net income of $119 million, or 10 cents a share, on net revenues of $1.13 billion. The fourth-quarter profits in 2010 reflected a charge related to Schwab’s YieldPlus fund.

Tim Welsh of Nexus Strategy in Larkspur, Calif., a Schwab alumnus from its institutional business, says the company lost some executives in recent years which may be affecting net new asset growth.

“Over time that has an impact,” he said. “Obviously it’s a powerful growth engine and it will continue on, without a doubt, because of its brand and its franchise. But at the margins, that’s where you see the net new asset numbers start to decline.”

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