Philadelphia Funds Return 15 Percent As New Investment Strategies Play Out

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The Philadelphia Board of Pensions, the entity that handles investments for the city’s pension funds, released its annual return data this week. The fund returned just over 15 percent for the fiscal year. From the Philadelphia Enquirer:

The total fund ended the fiscal year up 15.6 percent, outperforming its benchmarks by 1.96 percent. A more narrow portfolio, managed internally, did well, too, showing an 11.97 percent return, about 3.5 percent higher than similar benchmark funds.

The city’s pension system is severely unfunded, with only about half the money it needs to pay its $5 billion in obligations to current and future retirees.

The fund altered its investment strategy in recent years, in large part to the hiring of Chief Investment Officer Sumit Handa. From the Inquirer:

The board’s investment strategy has been revamped with the arrival three years ago of Handa and executive director Francis X. Bielli.

Investments were tweaked, Handa said, particularly the pension board’s fixed-income portfolio.

While investment firms handle the bulk of funds, the pension board staff manages a portfolio of about $260 million, or 5.3 percent of the pension fund. Known as the Independence Fund, it is designed as a “tactical” fund, Handa said, to be used to rapidly respond to opportunities the staff might see.

It strives for high returns at low risk. Since it was established in early 2012, it has been an overachiever by those standards. Outperforming its benchmark, it has shown only a third of the risk associated with investing in the S&P 500, while achieving 60 percent of the rate of return.

This marks the third consecutive year the fund has outperformed its benchmark. Previous to that, the fund has underperformed its benchmarks over the past five and ten-year periods.

The S&P 500 returned 21 percent over the period (July 1- June 30) that the Board of Pensions reported their annual return.

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