San Diego County Pension Trustee Decries Investment Strategy, CIO in Newspaper

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Samantha Begovich, a trustee for the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association (SDCERA), has penned a column in an area newspaper decrying the fund’s outsourced CIO, Salient Partners, and its investment strategy.

The fund voted last year to move on from Salient Partners and hire an in-house CIO after critics called Salient’s investment strategy too risky. But the process has been slow, and Salient could retain asset management duties until November 2015.

The public nature of Begovich’s complaints is unprecedented for a trustee of a fund that, until late last year, didn’t allow its board members to talk to the media at all.

From the column, published in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

I have repeatedly asked that Salient be sent a 30-day termination letter. CalPERS and CalSTRS posted 19 percent returns for 2014. SDCERA? 9 percent. The fund will be short $700 million of its Salient moonshot this fiscal year. How did this happen?

[…]

Critics allege one-sided staging in support of Salient. In August, realists took the mic. Expert after expert said our fund was at-risk. They said it is conflicted and imprudent having one subcontractor direct all $10 billion. They erupted at the irrationality of this adviser investing 50 percent of our money in his product line. If speech bubbles were above the experts, they would’ve said, “Say what?”

Imagine dealing with someone both clergy and salesperson to you. A word picture: Your rabbi/priest/cleric says, “It would be wise and virtuous for you to invest $2 billion in Advanced Manufacturing in the CaliBaja Mega Region. I have no track record, but you should invest in my CaliBaja Advanced Manufacturing firm.” See the tension? Asked why we weren’t in rival funds with stellar track records, Salient’s Lee Partridge said: “I don’t want to talk about my competition.”

Kudos to University of California Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Baccher, manager of $91 billion, for not laughing when I asked: What do you think of our investment strategy wherein 25 percent of our portfolio puts total value at risk of loss? He paused in disbelief and sagely said: “Well, I think you have your answer, don’t you?”

The fund’s board voted 8-1 last November to move CIO duties in-house and thus cut ties with Salient Partners.

 

Photo by  Gene Han via Flickr CC License

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