CalPERS Is Ramping Up Its Real Estate Portfolio. Why?

Businessman holding small model house in hands

Last week marked a big shift in investment strategy for CalPERS, and it goes beyond hedge funds. The pension fund’s hedge fund pullout got all the headlines, of course, but CalPERS also decided to invest an addition $1.3 billion in real estate.

The reasoning behind dropping hedge funds has been made clear. But what about the real estate investments? Over at GlobeSt.com, Erika Morphy explores some of the reasons that could be behind CalPERS’ deep dive into real estate.

From GlobeSt.com:

It’s business as usual

It was just real estate’ turn, says Stephen Culhane, who heads the investment management practice at the law firm Kaye Scholer.

“Institutional investors are always assessing and reassessing their allocations,” he tells GlobeSt.com. “Commercial real estate valuations are strong and it is perceived as a bit as a safe haven particularly for non US and long-term investors.”

It’s a shift in investment philosophy – and not just a change in asset allocation

CalPERS handles over $300 billion for over 1 million current and former state employees. Their investing philosophy is transitioning from a classic hedge fund, 60/40 model, to more of an endowment model, says Jeff Sica, founder and CIO of Circle Squared Alternative Investments.

“CalPERS is aiming to reduce volatility and obtain a more predictable annual return across their portfolio,” Sica tells GlobeSt.com. “Their move into real estate provides them with stability and a quantifiable income stream. With reduced volatility and a stabilized annual return, it will be more beneficial to them in the long run instead of fluctuating with the equity market,” he says.

Hedge funds have lost their appeal.

Despite CalPERS careful explanations, this is the theory of Bill Militello, co-founder and CEO of Militello Capital.

“The increasing trend of moving away from hedge funds is due in part to their lack of transparency and a lack of understanding of the investments—they are intangible,” he tells GlobeSt.com. “Hedge funds are simply public securities in a different wrapper, they are not an asset class, they are a compensation scheme.”

There is also evidence that hedge funds on an overall basis have actually underperformed versus passively managed funds, Chauncey M. Swalwell, partner with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, tells GlobeSt.com—”making the relatively high fees typically paid to hedge fund managers untenable at CalPERS.”

It is an inflation hedge

This is the flip side of fund’s decision, Militello adds. “Properly purchased real estate in supply constrained markets with built in demand drivers provides access to well-insulated investments that protect against rising interest rates.”

There isn’t space here to list all the potential reasons listed. You can read all seven reasons here.

LACERS also committed an additional $190 million to real estate investments last week.

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