Arkansas Firms Feel BlackRock's Trillion-Dollar Presence

by George Waldon  on Monday, Aug. 15, 2011 12:00 am  

Flipping through securities filings for public companies, one name seems to be everywhere: BlackRock Inc. The New York firm is the largest asset manager in the world, overseeing a $3.6 trillion trove of stocks, bonds, real estate, cash and more.

"They manage money for people all over the universe and entities all over the planet," said Rush Harding, CEO of Little Rock investment banking firm Crews & Associates.

The Arkansas investment community is no exception to the reach of BlackRock's global shadow. The firm is listed as a beneficial owner in nearly every Arkansas public company, from the biggest to the smallest.

The value of those corporate stock holdings ranges from $3.6 billion at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville to $53,734 at Harrison's First Federal Bancshares of Arkansas Inc.

Though BlackRock is deemed to have sole voting and investment control over the shares, the company doesn't take direct ownership positions. It

manages assets for pension funds, banks and governments.

"Companies like BlackRock become the place for sophisticated risk-oriented money to go," said Curt Bradbury, COO of Little Rock's Stephens Inc. "They represent very, very smart money.

"I think it's a positive thing for our capitalistic economy for companies like BlackRock that spring up and do what they do. It's a great American success story."

BlackRock's combined investment positions for its clients often represent a significant piece of a company's outstanding shares. The company's biggest stake in an Arkansas concern is 8.9 percent of Arkansas Best Corp. of Fort Smith.

"It's not unusual at all to have a very large shareholder who you don't have a lot of contact with," said David Humphrey, vice president of investor relations and corporate communications at Arkansas Best. "We've met with their analysts at various times, but there's not really been a whole lot of direct contact.

"They have less contact with us than many investors do. But that doesn't necessarily mean anything. That's their approach."

Ten Arkansas companies report that BlackRock controls 5 percent or more of outstanding stock, according to the latest batch of proxy statements on record.

BlackRock's name crops up on the institutional shareholder list at six more Arkansas public companies.



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