Rhode Island, Raimondo Defend Hedge Fund Position After CalPERS Pullout

Gina Raimondo

Rhode Island’s pension fund invests nearly $2 billion in hedge funds, or 14 percent of its overall portfolio.

In light of CalPERS high-profile pullback from hedge funds, The Providence Journal asked Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island’s Treasurer, for her thoughts on CalPERS’ decision and the fate of hedge funds in Rhode Island’s portfolio:

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo sees no immediate reason to pull Rhode Island’s pension money out of hedge funds, just because the largest public pension fund in the U.S. – the California Public Employees Retirement System – has announced plans to do so over the next year.

[…]

Asked Tuesday if Rhode Island would take its cue from Calpers, Raimondo chief of staff Andrew Roos said: “We will continue to learn from best practices around the country and will look closely at the CalPERS decision.’’

But he said: “Rhode Island’s pension fund is less than 3% the size of Calpers and has very different funding and cash-flow needs. Given our fund’s different characteristics, we will continue to pursue strategies that pursue the best outcomes for Rhode Island pension participants.’’

Roos acknowledged that the state’s hedge-fund-heavy strategy brings loads of fees. He also admitted that the hedge funds have under-performed in 2013 compared to the rest of the pension fund’s portfolio. But he stood by the investments. He told the Providence Journal:

“Every action the State Investment Commission has taken during this administration has been to promote retirement security and ensure funds will be available to pay pension checks to our retirees,’’ he said.

“After the financial collapse of 2008-2009 when the fund lost over $2 billion dollars, the SIC reviewed its policies and unanimously adopted a plan to reduce volatility while continuing to pursue strong long-term returns … As a part of the strategy to reduce volatility while maintaining strong long-term returns, the SIC improved the pension fund’s diversification, which included making allocations to hedge funds….’’

“This strategy is working,’’ Roos said. “Over the last three years we have reduced the volatility of this portfolio by 50% and achieved strong returns (1 year: 15.12%; 3 year: 9.05% as of June 30, 2014) … [But] like every other investment the state makes, the SIC and staff are constantly evaluating and making adjustments to the hedge fund allocation to ensure it is performing as intended.’’

Rhode Island’s pension fund paid $70 million in investment fees in the 2012-13 fiscal year. Meanwhile, the state’s hedge fund investments returned around 8.8 percent in 2013-14, while the pension fund’s overall portfolio returned 15 percent over the same period.

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