Pennsylvania Not Cutting Hedge Funds Despite State Auditor’s Skepticism

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CalPERS’ decision to pull out of hedge funds is having a ripple effect across the country.

On Wednesday, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released this skeptical statement on the state pension system’s hedge fund investments:

“Hedge fund investments may be an appropriate strategy for certain investors and I trust that SERS and PSERS weigh investment options carefully,” DePasquale said in a statement. “But, SERS and PSERS are dealing with public pension funds that are already stressed and high fees cost state taxpayers more each year. I support full disclosure of hedge fund fees paid by our public pension funds and we owe it to taxpayers to ensure that those fees do not outweigh the returns.”

Spokespeople for both the State Employees Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS) have now responded. The consensus: the pension funds will not be cutting their hedge fund allocations.


SERS has no plans to cut hedge funds further. “Hedge funds play a role in our current board-approved strategic investment plan, which was designed to structure a well-diversified portfolio,” SERS spokeswoman Pamela Hile told me. With many more workers set to retire, hedge funds (or “diversifying assets,” as SERS prefers to call them) combine relatively steady returns with low volatility “over varying capital market environments.” By SERS’s count “difersifying assets” are now down to $1.7 billion, or 6% of the $28 billion fund and returning 10.7% after fees for the year ending June 30, up from a 10-year average of 7.4%.

Says PSERS spokeswoman Evelyn Williams: “We agree with the Auditor General that hedge funds are appropriate for certain investors. Not all investors can or should invest in hedge funds. Clearly CALPERS reviewed their hedge fund allocation and acted in their own fund’s best interests.

“PSERS also sets our asset allocation based on our own unique goals and issues. We do not have any immediate plans to change our hedge fund asset allocation at this time… PSERS’ hedge fund allocation provides diversification for our asset allocation and is specifically structured so it does not correlate with traditional equity markets…PSERS hedge fund allocation has performed as expected and provided positive investment returns over the past fiscal year, one, three, and five years.”

SERS allocates 7 percent of its assets, or $1.9 billion, towards hedge funds. PSERS, meanwhile, allocates 12.5 percent of its assets, or $5.7 billion, towards hedge funds.


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Texas Fund Cuts Hedge Fund Allocation By 1 Percent

Texas Proof

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, one of the largest pension funds in the country, announced Thursday it would cut its allocation to hedge funds by 1 percent. It also changed its target allocations for equities and bonds.

Reported by Bloomberg:

The board of the $126 billion Texas system approved the change today following an asset allocation study, Howard Goldman, a spokesman, said by e-mail. Texas will reduce hedge funds to 8 percent of the pension from 9 percent, according to board documents.


Besides reducing its bet on hedge funds, the Texas pension lowered the portion of assets it gives to equities by 4 percentage points and to fixed-income securities by 2 percentage points, while adding 5 percentage points each to risk parity and private markets, according to board documents. Risk parity is a strategy for investing based on allocation of risk and private equity and real assets.

“These new allocations are expected to be funded from a diverse set of asset classes across the trust in order to increase the overall probability that TRS will be able to achieve the 8 percent actuarial return target,” according to a statement provided by Goldman.

TRS Texas is approximately 80 percent funded. It is the sixth-largest public pension fund in the United States.

Denmark Funds Ramp Up Alternative Investments

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New government rules have led to a transformation in the asset allocation of Danish pension funds. Among the changes: more investments in alternatives. Reported by Reuters:

Pension funds in Denmark have had to gradually adapt to new solvency rules introduced by the Danish Financial Services Authority (FSA) since 2007, leading them to drop guarantees and take on more risk by investing in higher-yielding “alternative” assets, such as infrastructure projects, real estate and private equity funds.

Denmark’s top pension funds had on average invested 7 percent of their assets in alternative investments, excluding properties, by the end of 2012, the latest for which the Danish Financial Services Authority (FSA) has data for.

Out of the 152 billion Danish crowns ($26.4 billion) that the top funds had invested in alternative assets by end-2012, 59 billion crowns were in private equity funds, 44 billion in credit, 20 billion in infrastructure, 16 billion in agriculture and 13 billion in hedge funds.

As noted above, the average Denmark fund held 7 percent of their assets in alternatives in 2012.

The average U.S. fund holds 6.5 percent of its assets in alternatives, according to 2009 data from the Public Plans Database.

Trustees Express Fears About San Diego Fund’s Risky Strategy


The San Diego County Employees Retirement Association (SDCERA) made headlines this summer with its decision to embrace a high-risk investment strategy including extensive use of leverage and derivatives.

But members of the fund’s board expressed concern at a meeting Thursday over potential losses the fund could experience if the risky strategy goes awry. Reported by UT San Diego:

At a contentious meeting Thursday, the pension fund’s board directed managers to fence in potential losses without reducing expected investment returns.

Under a revised investment strategy that took effect July 1, managers can use derivatives to put $20 billion or more at risk in financial markets, using the fund’s $10 billion in assets as collateral.

“Frankly, it scares the heck out of me,” said Dianne Jacob, a county supervisor and appointed member of the pension board, said Thursday.

The fund’s chief investment strategist, Lee Partridge of Salient Partners, said the probability of total losses was exceedingly low. The view was echoed by the fund’s chief executive and a consultant charged with risk management oversight.

Board members approved the new strategy in April, by a unanimous vote that included Jacob.

“The draft IPS does not include appropriate limits and board approval processes in the areas of asset allocation, leverage and portfolio risk monitoring,” said county Treasurer and board member Dan McAllister, in a letter given Thursday to the fund’s chief executive, Brian White.

The point was driven home by Samantha Begovich, a county prosecutor who joined the board in July.

Holding up a dollar bill, then adding a second dollar bill, Begovich asked directly whether the fund could lose its entire balance — and still owe $10 billion.

Fund officials maintained that the probability of a total loss of assets as a result of the strategy was close to zero.


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Troubled Dallas Fund Returns 4.4 Percent For 2013


The Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund (DPFPF) knew 2013 wasn’t going to be a great year for investment returns. They knew this because 2012 wasn’t a great year, and neither were the five years prior.

Even as numerous funds across the country have struggled with maintaining strong investment returns over that period, the DPFPF was performing worse than most.

Bad investment results are what led to the June firing of top administrator Richard Tettamant. Still, the fund had hoped a 13 percent return was in the cards for 2013—not an overly impressive number, given the S&P 500 had returned around 25 percent over the same period.

But that didn’t come to fruition. DPFPF’s return data was released this month, and the fund posted a grim 4.4 percent return for 2013, failing to meet its lofty 8.5 percent assumed rate of return.

What makes DPFPF different from other funds? For one, asset allocation.

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According to the Center for Retirement Research, the average public pension fund allocates around 49 percent of its investments to equities, 7 percent to real estate and 27 percent to fixed-income strategies.

The DPFPF, on the other hand, invests significantly less in equities and bonds and significantly more in real estate. Its real estate investments did not do well.

Nor did its private equity investments. The fund says 45 percent of its private equity allocation is placed in two investments: Huff Energy and Red Consolidated Holdings.

Red Consolidated Holdings was flat on the year. But Huff Energy returned a negative 29.7 percent for 2013, which brought down the entire private equity portfolio.

This year isn’t an anomaly for the DPFPF. The fund has consistently under-performed its peers. From Dallas News:

Over the past five years, it has earned an annual return of 8.6 percent, according to preliminary figures from its consultant. That placed it 97th among about 100 similar-size funds, the consultant reported. The median annual return during that period was 12.2 percent.

In 2012, the fund earned 11.4 percent on its investments. The median annual return for similar funds was 12.2 percent.

The fund’s investment staff received big bonuses in 2013 nonetheless. That’s because the bonuses aren’t determined by how the fund performs relative to its peers. Instead, staff receive bonuses if investment performance beats the assumed rate of return.

Since the assumed rate of return for the DPFPF sits at 8.5 percent, the 2012 investment performance (11.4%) triggered the bonuses even though the fund under-performed relative to its peers.

Tettamant’s base salary in 2012 was $270,000, and he received over $100,000 in bonuses between 2012 and 2013.

Photo by Taylor Bennett via Flickr CC License

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