MARCH MADNESS: BlackRock (BLK) vs. AT&T (T)

It’s good to be an asset manager in a long bull market like the one the market is enjoying now. It’s less good to be a juggernaut telecommunications company in a saturated market with competition on all sides.

MARCH MADNESS: BlackRock, Inc. (BLK) vs. AT&T Inc. (T)And yet both BlackRock, Inc. (NYSE:BLK) and AT&T Inc. (T) have some attractive attributes, even if the former has greatly outperformed the latter. After all, AT&T offers one of the biggest dividends among dependable blue chips, and investors can rest assured that the payouts will keep rising (a critical component of dividend investing).

For its own part, BLK is the world’s largest issuer of exchange-traded funds, which are only gaining in popularity. Indeed, BLK launches new ETFs all the time. And it’s not exactly a slouch when it comes to returning cash to shareholders through dividends and stock buybacks.

No stock is without risks and blemishes, of course, and that extends to BLK and T. The bull market will come to an end one day, tamping down enthusiasm for ETFs and other securities products along the way. Meanwhile, T can only grow by making pretty pricey acquisitions.

But if you had to pick one, the winner is far from clear. Here’s a look at BLK and T as they go head-to-head.

BlackRock (BLK)

BlackRock’s ETF business is a monster. The iShares family of ETFs contributes roughly 30% of BlackRock’s total revenue, and the division keeps growing. The iShares business also punches above its weight. It contributes all that revenue to BLK’s top line, yet accounts for less than a quarter of its asset base.

At the same time, BLK is working hard to keep a lid on costs, and that has led to operating margin expansion. Add that to solid revenue growth, and you’ve got a nice trajectory of earnings per share improvements. (A stock buyback program for up to 9.4 million shares doesn’t hurt either.)

And speaking of the top line, BLK is defying the law of large numbers. The biggest asset manager in the world is forecast to hit double-digit percent revenue growth next year.

If there’s a shortcoming for BLK, it’s that fees on passively managed products are lower than actively managed products. As passive ETFs gain inflows, that takes a bite out of BLK’s revenue growth.

AT&T (T)

AT&T was recently booted from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Apart from perhaps some less-than-ideal optics, it doesn’t really matter and may even be a good thing. Indeed, studies show that companies enjoy better share price performance after being kicked out of the blue-chip average.

That said, telecommunications is an especially tough business these days. Landline phones are ancient history, everyone who wants a mobile phone has one and there’s competition for everyone from other telcos to the cable industry.

T is trying to overcome these obstacles to growth through bold acquisitions. It’s waiting for regulatory approval for its purchase of DirecTV (NASDAQ:DTV) and recently picked up a Mexican telecommunications company, as well.

Lastly, the dividend yield of 5.7% is hard to beat. Most of the time, a stock only has such a high yield because it’s in trouble and the share price has crashed. Not AT&T. This is a widows-and-orphans stock par excellence.

Our First-Round Pick: BLK

If you’re leaning toward a long-term investment for the income part of your equity portfolio, AT&T is the way to go. Share price performance has been underwhelming the last couple of years, but if you have no stomach for risk and just want the income stream, T can’t be beat.

That said, BLK affords the possibility of some serious outperformance. It’s smoking the broader market over the last year and looks to have more upside ahead. And with more than $3 billion in free cash flow, don’t be surprised if the company raises the share repurchase again.

BLK is riskier than T, but the potential rewards make BlackRock worth it.

Head back to the Stock Market Madness bracket to vote for your favorite stocks and check out other previews!

As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

Article printed from InvestorPlace Media,

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