Chase Manhattan Corp.'s agreement to buy Robert Fleming Holdings Ltd. may be a sign that the U.S. banking giant is finally putting its money where its mouth is in terms of asset management.
The deal for the London-based asset manager and investment banking firm gives Chase, which has taken a series of relatively small steps into overseas markets, a big boost in assets under management in Europe and Asia.
But just as importantly, it gives Chase a base on which to develop a significant presence in global investment management.
"It makes a dramatic difference in our presence in the market," said Chase vice chairman Neal S. Garonzik. "It makes us one of the larger global managers."
Fleming manages about $100 billion of assets, mostly in Asian and European equities. This complements Chase's $230 billion of assets under management, mostly in fixed income, cash management, and U.S. equities.
"Chase has been talking about asset management for a long time, but this is the first significant deal they've done on that side," said Catherine Murray, an equities analyst at J.P. Morgan Securities in New York.
The deal would give Chase a "significant increase in size and product offerings," as well as a platform for further internal growth, Ms. Murray said. She added, however, "if they want to be a major player in asset management, they're going to need to build further."
The new company will be called Chase Flemings and will be led by William Garrett, who will report to Mr. Garonzik. Mr. Garrett is now a group chief executive of Fleming.
Chase is to pay $7.7 billion for Fleming - $4.1 billion of cash and $3.6 billion of Chase common stock. The deal is expected to close within four months.
The purchase price would be partly offset by $780 million Chase is to get for Fleming's 50% interest in a joint venture with T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. The venture, established in 1979, manages $43 billion of assets.
The Baltimore-based fund manager is to exercise right of first refusal on Fleming's share. Through the joint venture, the two firms manage non-U.S. investments for institutional clients and 13 T. Rowe Price-sponsored mutual funds.
For Fleming, the deal with Chase means the British company can offer its institutional funds in the United States, which was forbidden by terms of the joint venture, Mr. Garonzik said. That will happen "as soon as legally possible," he said.
Fleming offers broader regional experience and contacts, especially in Asia, where it was one of the first foreign entrants in many countries, Mr. Garonzik said. In Asia, Fleming controls Hong Kong-based Jardine Fleming Holdings Ltd., which manages $30 billion for institutional and individual clients.
The Jardine Fleming mutual fund group has grown at an average annual rate of 59% for the past three years, Mr. Garonzik said. Fleming's European Flagship Funds have averaged 50% growth the past three years, he said.
Fleming is also strong in the private-client business, and Mr. Garonzik said that Chase would sell Fleming's investment products to its own private clients worldwide.
By moving into the European and Asian markets, Chase and other companies are getting in on the ground floor of what observers see as huge areas of growth for investment management.
"The markets in Europe and Asia really are 10 to 15 years behind where we are in the U.S.," said William R. White, practice leader in investment product services for San Francisco-based Spectrem Group. "This kind of acquisition gets you local market knowledge and relationships and investment management expertise to exploit that market."
But as it develops the market for individual consumers, Chase is "still looking at significant outlay in terms of marketing and product development," Mr. White said.
A Chase spokesman said that Fleming, with 56% of its assets under management in mutual funds, has a strong retail orientation.