Legg celebrates a satisfying year

Growth: The company has an enviable record

the stock has proved rewarding

and the CEO is not inclined toward complacency.

July 26, 2000|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

Legg Mason Inc. is on a roll, but don't tell that to Raymond A. "Chip" Mason, its chairman and chief executive.

After the company's annual meeting yesterday, Mason said the Baltimore-based brokerage and asset management concern can't become complacent.

"You have got to keep going and as you go along you keep building," he said. "You keep marching, you keep marching."

Indeed, Legg Mason has been on the march. Its growth and overall performance have been spectacular, and Mason beamed yesterday as he listed the accomplishments for about 100 shareholders and company executives who attended the meeting, which was held at the Center Club downtown.

Net revenue, for example, shot past $1 billion for the first time in Legg Mason's 101-year history to $1.24 billion as of its fiscal year ending March 31.

Assets the company manages have ballooned to $126.6 billion as of June 30, and have grown at a 43 percent compounded annual rate since 1990, compared with the industry's 24 percent growth rate.

Earnings per share have grown from 34 cents in 1990 to $2.33 per share as of March 31.

And a $10,000 investment in the company when it went public in 1983 would be worth $197,000, assuming dividends were reinvested. Its shares closed yesterday at $53.8125, up $1.125.

"The company's performance is truly one of the most stellar of the 30 companies I follow," said Michael Flanagan, a brokerage analyst at Financial Service Analytics Inc. in Philadelphia. "I just don't see an end to this stretch."

Yesterday, Legg Mason's board rewarded shareholders by approving a regular quarterly cash dividend of 9 cents per share, up 12.5 percent from the current quarterly 8-cent cash dividend. It marks the 20th consecutive year of dividend increases to stockholders. The dividend is payable Oct. 23 to stockholders of record on Oct. 5.

Despite a tough stock market, shares of Legg Mason have vaulted 48.99 percent this year, and over the past five years have appreciated 417 percent, beating the brokerage industry's return of 314 percent and the Standard & Poor's 500 index's 227 percent return.

"It has been a good investment for those ... who stuck with the stock," Mason told the audience. "We need to continue to offer shareholders value."

One way the company has been trying to do that is by insulating its business from sharp downturns in the stock market. It has stressed asset management, rather than simply relying on brokerage transactions, which can be volatile because they fluctuate with the stock.

In 1990, 55 percent of Legg Mason's revenue came from its brokerage business and 20 percent came from asset management. Today, brokerage accounts for 40 percent of revenue, and asset management for 43 percent.

Mason said the goal is to grow domestically and internationally, and that the company will continue to look for acquisitions. Each year, the company reviews 50 to 60 deals, Mason said.

Of course, Mason dreams of even better results, but he could never guarantee them.

"I'd like to stand in front of you next year with a year as successful as this has been," he told the audience, which broke into applause.

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