Kolivakis on Post-GASB New Jersey and Pension Fund Compensation

numbers and graphs

Last week, the funding ratio of New Jersey’s pension system dropped 20 points. That’s because the state began measuring funding under new GASB accounting rules, which requires using market asset values instead of actuarial ones.

This new way of measuring liabilities puts New Jersey in an even deeper hole. But as Leo Kolivakis of Pension Pulse points out, this is a hole that New Jersey dug for itself – with poor pension governance, below-median investment performance and by diverting state pension payments to other parts of the budget.

Here’s Kolivakis’ take on New Jersey’s situation, the new GASB rules and compensating pension fund staff.


Originally published at Pension Pulse:

You can read more on GASB’s new rules for pensions here. I note the background for these changes:

On August 2, 2012, the GASB published accounting and financial reporting standards that improve the way state and local governments report their pension liabilities and expenses, resulting in a more faithful representation of the full impact of these obligations.

The guidance contained in these Statements will change how governments calculate and report the costs and obligations associated with pensions in important ways. It is designed to improve the decision-usefulness of reported pension information and to increase the transparency, consistency, and comparability of pension information across state and local governments.

For example, net pension liabilities will be reported on governments’ balance sheet, providing citizens and other users of these financial reports with a clearer picture of the size and nature of the financial obligations to current and former employees for past services rendered.

In particular, Statement 68 requires governments providing defined benefit pensions to recognize their long-term obligation for pension benefits as a liability for the first time, and to more comprehensively and comparably measure the annual costs of pension benefits.

The new GASB rules will impact all state and local pensions, not just New Jersey. This will be another important measure to determine whether U.S. public pensions are indeed on solid footing.

As for New Jersey, back in March, I commented on its pensiongate scandal and didn’t mince my words:

The article doesn’t capture the real problem at U.S. public pension plans, namely, lack of proper governance. You basically have politicians appointing political bureaucrats in charge of public pensions, paying them peanut salaries and getting monkey results. There are exceptions but this is typically how U.S. public pension funds are mismanaged.

And who benefits most from this? Of course, the Paul Singers, Dan Loebs, Steve Schwarzmans, and all the rest of the who’s who managing hedge funds and private equity funds. It’s one big alternatives party — for the big boys. Everyone is making a killing except for these public pension funds, praying for an alternatives miracle that will never happen. These alternatives managers and their sophisticated marketing are milking the public pension cow dry. They basically have a license to steal.

And why not? There are plenty of dumb institutions listening to their useless investment consultants who are more than happy to recommend the latest hot hedge fund or private equity fund to their ignorant clients. It’s a frigging joke which is why the Oracle of Omaha is 100% right when he warns us that the worst is yet to come for U.S. public pensions.

As far as New Jersey, Gov. Christie has done some good things on pension reform but a lot more needs to be done. Double-dipping pensioners are bleeding New Jersey dry.  Unions can bitch all they want about rich alternatives managers meddling in their state’s politics but they must accept shared risk of their plan, which includes raising the retirement age and cuts in benefits as long as the plan is chronically underfunded. The state of New Jersey, however, should make sure it tops up its public pension plan which it neglected to do for years (the major cause of the pension deficit).

The biggest factor explaining the pension deficit in New Jersey and other states is how successive state governments failed to make their pension contributions, using the money to fund other things (no doubt in an effort to buy votes).

But there are plenty of other factors that didn’t help, like lack of sensible pension reforms, lousy investment performance and poor governance.

On this last point, Michael B. Marois of Bloomberg reports, California Pension Fund Bonus Payouts Climb 14% From Prior Year:

The $300 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest U.S. public pension, paid $9 million in bonuses last fiscal year, up 14 percent from a year earlier as earnings exceeded benchmarks.

The fund, known as Calpers, paid $8.7 million in bonuses to investment staff in the year ended June 30, and almost $300,000 to four non-investment executives, according to data provided by the system. The rewards are based on three-year performance verses a benchmark, as well as the earnings of each asset class and individual portfolios, said spokesman Brad Pacheco.

“These awards are part of the overall compensation we provide to recruit and retain skilled investment professionals needed to ensure success of the fund,” Pacheco said.

Public-pension funds are recouping investment losses suffered during the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, which wiped out a third of Calpers’ value. Still, the crisis left U.S. pensions short more than an estimated $915 billion needed to cover benefits promised to government workers. Taxpayers have been asked to make up the shortfall.

The biggest bonus earner was Ted Eliopoulos, the chief investment officer who recorded a $305,810 bonus last year in addition to his $412,039 base pay.

Top Job

That bonus was paid when Eliopoulos was acting chief investment officer after his predecessor Joe Dear died in February from cancer. Prior to that, Eliopoulos headed the fund’s real estate portfolio. He now earns $475,000 in base pay after he was tapped for the top investment job in September.

Eliopoulos announced in September that the fund was divesting all $4 billion it had in hedge funds, saying they were too expensive and too complicated and not worth the returns.

The pension fund earned 18.4 percent last fiscal year, 12.5 percent a year earlier and 1 percent in 2012. It estimates it need 7.5 percent annually to meet its long-term obligation to pay benefits promised to state and local government workers.

Calpers is still short $103.6 billion needed to cover those promises based on market value as of June 30, 2012, the latest figure that was available. That shortfall is up 19 percent from a year earlier.

The California fund says it must grant bonuses to help compete with the pay that employees could make if they went to work on Wall Street. Pacheco said spending money on in-house investment management saves about $100 million a year that otherwise would be paid to Wall Street in fees.

Wall Street bonuses, which rose 15 percent on average last year to $164,530 — the highest since 2007 — may climb again as a result of payments deferred from previous years, New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said last month.

Four executives outside the Calpers investment office were paid a total of $295,930 in bonuses last year, the fund said. Anne Stausboll, chief executive officer, got $113,679; Chief Actuary Alan Milligan earned $75,748 and Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Eason was paid $89,703, almost double a year earlier.

Calpers paid a total of $7.9 million in bonuses in the prior fiscal year.

Compensation is part of pension governance and if you ask my expert opinion, CalPERS’ compensation is fair and accurately reflects the market, their performance and their ability to attract and retain professionals to manage billions. The only thing I would change is base it on four-year rolling returns, like they do at Canadian public pension funds.

All this hoopla on compensation at U.S. public pension funds is totally misdirected. I happen to think most U.S. public pension fund managers are grossly underpaid, just like I think some Canadian public pension fund managers are grossly overpaid (read my comment on PSP’s hefty payouts and the subsequent ones on its tricky balancing act and its FY 2014 results which were likely padded by skirting foreign taxes).

Getting compensation right is critical to the long-term health of any public pension fund but supervisors of these funds should make sure they’re paying their senior investment staff properly based on benchmarks that truly reflect the risks they’re taking. I believe in paying people for performance, not for taking dumb risks to trounce their silly benchmark (that contributed to Caisse’s ABCP disaster which the media is still covering up).

Task Force Leader: Jacksonville Needs to Approve Pension Reform

palm tree

Over the summer, Jacksonville’s mayor put together a Retirement Reform Task Force. The Task Force’s job description, according to the city website, is to “review the proposed public safety pension reform agreement, seek input from stakeholders and other interested citizens, and make recommendations on how the City should proceed.”

On Monday, the leader of that task force, William E. Scheu, wrote a column for the Florida Times-Union urging the Jacksonville city council to approve the pension reform measure currently in front of them.

The reform measure aims to improve the funding of the city’s public safety pension system by forcing the city to make higher payments to the system – to the tune of an extra $40 million a year.

But city council members are worried because the mayor has not specified where he will get that extra money.

Scheu acknowledges that concern, but says this is the best chance to enact a pension reform measure built by compromise.

From the column:

Last year a broad-based, stakeholder-representative task force met 17 times and urged a comprehensive reform that recognized the interests of the various parties, acknowledged the legal conundrum in which the city was forced to operate and examined various alternatives for reform.

The solutions the task force proposed with the help of The Pew Charitable Trusts included significant governance reforms, benefit reductions for both future and existing employees, a reformed plan design and a funding source for accelerated pension contributions.

Task force members considered the fact that litigation was a present fact but an expensive and uncertain route for the future.

Its solution was a compromise that is not perfect, but is attainable and sustainable.

It was supported by the Times-Union and most business, civic and political leaders.


While the mayor has not provided good leadership in refusing to identify a dedicated funding source for the additional pension contributions recommended by the task force, the City Council should not abandon its own responsibilities and “kick the can” further down the road.

The City Council has an opportunity to move Jacksonville forward by adopting the proposal now before it. It is imperfect, but it is a responsible step toward ensuring that Jacksonville’s quality of life will improve and that the annual fights over funding the city’s core services will end.

The Fitch and Moody’s rating agencies have recognized that Jacksonville’s financial condition is sick.

It is time to enact pension reform.

It is time for Jacksonville to take its medicine for the harm inflicted on it by our leaders in earlier years.

Read the entire column here.

Moody’s: Stockton Ruling Good News For “Financial Profile” of CalPERS


Moody’s released a report Wednesday outlining the credit agency’s thoughts on CalPERS in the wake of the Stockton ruling.

The agency affirmed CalPERS’ rating of Aa2, which is the third-highest rating available. From the report:

Favorable outcomes for CalPERS in the Stockton, CA and San Bernardino, CA bankruptcy proceedings lend further support to CalPERS improving financial profile because it reduces the likelihood that other CalPERS contracting employers will race to declare bankruptcy to reduce growing pension liabilities. The combination of a reduction in the likelihood that other distressed California municipalities will pursue bankruptcy to reduce pension liabilities and contribution rate increases on contracting employers in each of the last three years should improve the CalPERS funded status and its ability to cover the expected longer lives of retirees.

More from the Sacramento Bee:

Stockton’s court-approved plan to continue full contributions to its CalPERS-administered pension program sets a positive course for the retirement system, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Wednesday morning statement.

The firm’s assessment is the other side of what it said shortly after bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein’s Oct. 1 non-binding comments that pensions aren’t immune to bankruptcy law. Wall Street applauded his statements and Moody’s said the judge’s remarks signaled that bankruptcy could be a new tool for financially-stressed municipalities.

But now that Klein has blessed Stockton’s plan, which cuts payments to debtors but leaves its contributions to CalPERS untouched, Moody’s says the case “likely sets a precedent that pensions will enjoy better treatment than debt in California (municipal bankruptcy) cases.”

Klein said that rejecting Stockton’s plan would irreparably degrade the city’s core services, including police and fire departments already struggling to hire and retain workers. Moody’s said Klein’s decision was “somewhat of a surprise,” given his earlier comments, and would discourage other contracting employers from using bankruptcy to cut their growing pension liabilities.

CalPERS is the nation’s largest public pension fund.


Photo by Stephen Curtin

New California Pension Data Now Online

Flag of California

California’s financial transparency website now features pension data on its state, county, and city-level pension systems.

The site includes data on assets, liabilities, funding ratios, membership statistics and actuarially required contributions, among other things.

More from MML News:

State Controller John Chiang has just made over a decade’s worth of state pension fund information available for public view on his open data website, ByTheNumbers.sco.ca.gov.

The site already allows taxpayers to track balance sheets of the state’s 58 counties and 450-plus cities in terms of their revenues, expenditures, liabilities, assets, and fund balances.

According to Chiang, this latest, massive data dump, representing over a million new data fields, provides “a one-stop portal into the financial underpinnings” of each of California’s 130 public pension systems. The information comes as the state and local communities continue to wrestle with managing pension costs, including how to manage the unfunded liabilities associated with providing retirement security to police, firefighters, teachers and other providers of critical public services.

The Sacramento Bee has already crunched some of the numbers:

Local-government employers contributions to defined-benefit retirement systems have nearly tripled in the last 11 years, according to the most recent data published by the California State Controller’s Office, while employee contributions have nearly doubled.

Meanwhile, more retirees are drawing money from their retirement systems while fewer active employees are paying in. Some of the troubling numbers:

– Cities and counties statewide paid $17.52 billion last year into pension funds, up from $6.38 billion in 2003. Employees’ contributions rose from $5.21 billion to $9.07 billion in 2013.

– Despite receiving more money, pension systems’ unfunded liabilities soared from $6.33 billion to $198.16 billion over the 11-year span.

– The number of local government retirees drawing benefits increased 50 percent, from a little over 800,000 in 2003 to 1.22 million last year.

– In 2013, there were 2.14 million active employees who paid into their retirement systems, down slightly from 2.25 million workers on local government payrolls in 2003.

You can view the data at https://bythenumbers.sco.ca.gov/.

Video: The Differences Between Tom Corbett And Tom Wolf On Pensions

News 8 recently interviewed both Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates. Here’s the resulting segment — Corbett and Wolf talk about pension reform, benefit cuts and how they plan to address pension funding if elected.

A quick summary of where the candidates stand on pensions, from the Associated Press:

-Corbett says the burgeoning cost of Pennsylvania’s public pensions is a crisis that requires prompt, decisive action. Wolf argues that it’s a problem that can be resolved in the years ahead.

-Corbett wants to scale back pensions for future school and state employees as a meaningful step toward savings. He says the taxpayers’ share of the pension costs for current employees — $2.1 billion this year — is crowding out funding for other programs and helping drive up local property taxes.

-Wolf contends that the pension problems are partly the result of the state contributing less than its fair share of the costs for nearly a decade and that a 2010 law reducing pension promises to future employees and refinancing existing obligations needs more time to work.

Virginia Pension Funding Improves For First Time in 5 Years

canon in field

The five major pension plans that fall under the umbrella of the Virginia Retirement Systems (VRS) all improved their funding statuses in fiscal year 2013-14, according to the state’s actuary.

It was the first funding improvement for VRS since 2008. More from the Times-Dispatch:

The state employee plan was 67.9 percent funded on June 30, up from 65.1 percent the previous year, and the teachers plan rose to 65.4 percent from 62.1 percent, based on an actuarial calculation that smooths gains and losses over five years.

Based on current market value, both plans were funded at more than 74 and 71 percent, respectively, at the end of the last fiscal year.

The improved funded status reflects a 15.7 percent increase in investment income in the last fiscal year for the $65 billion retirement system and potentially reduces pressure on contributions that state and local governments and school systems must make to pension plans for more than 600,000 active, retired and inactive employees.

“For us, what’s important is the trend is in the right direction,” said Jose I. Fernandez, principal and consulting actuary for Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting, LLC, which advises the VRS on the rates necessary to fund current retirement costs and long-term liabilities for public employees.

Part of the reason for the funding improvement: the state began paying back $1.1 billion dollars in missed pension payments. From the Times-Dispatch:

The analysis also reflects the required payback of $1.1 billion in deferred state and local pension contributions in the 2010-12 budget. The state has repaid about $250 million of the deferred obligations with interest, but will owe about $851 million over the next seven years.

The net result was a reduction in the system’s unfunded liabilities from almost $24 billion a year ago to about $22.6 billion now. The liability falls by almost $858 million for the teachers plan, the largest retirement plan with about 147,000 active employees and more than 81,000 retirees. But the plan still had an unfunded liability of about $14.3 billion on June 30.

VRS manages $65 billion of assets.


Photo Credit: “ChancellorsvilleBattlefieldModern” by MamaGeek. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Raimondo, Fung Fight Over Pension Funding, Fees

Allan Fung, Rhode Island’s Republican candidate for governor, released an ad last week slamming his opponent Gina Raimondo for paying “high fees” for “poor returns” on pension investments.

[The ad can be viewed above.]

Raimondo’s campaign issued the following statement refuting Fung’s claims and accusing Fung of mismanaging Cranston’s pension system:

“Allan Fung is recycling the same tired, misleading attacks on Gina that Rhode Islanders have already rejected. Everything Gina has done as Treasurer is to protect workers’ pensions. The fact is, Gina’s investment strategy is working and is providing strong returns with less risk.”

“In contrast, as mayor, Fung has failed to make full payments to the Cranston pension system and is proposing that we actually default on a debt the state owes. That’s reckless, risky and will hurt taxpayers,” she said of his stance on the 38 Studios bonds.

She cited annual financial reports indicating that the city never paid more than 87 percent of its required pension contribution the first four budget years Fung was mayor.

Fung’s spokesman responded to that attack with a subsequent statement:

“Cranston’s locally administered pension plan had been severely underfunded for years before Allan was elected mayor. … He increased contribution levels and negotiated a responsible pension reform plan,” and is “proud of the fact” the city budgets have had enough money to make full payment the last two fiscal years.

The Raimondo campaign has previously acknowledged that the pension system’s investment fees totaled $70 million in fiscal year 2012-13. Around $45 million of those fees were from hedge funds.

The Raimondo campaign has also clarified that the pension system’s hedge fund investments returned 8.8 percent in 2013. The system’s overall portfolio, meanwhile, returned 15 percent.

Fact Check: Has Tom Corbett Been Shorting The Pension System?

Tom Corbett

Tom Corbett has used the campaign trail to paint himself as a pension reformer – Corbett, the incumbent governor of Pennsylvania, says the pension system needs to be overhauled and supports a plan to shift public workers into a 401(k)-style plan.

His opponent, Tom Wolf, disagrees. Wolf says the problem isn’t the current system—it’s the current governor. He says the system’s current funding problem stems from Corbett’s failure to make required payments into the system.

The issue was brought up during a debate Wednesday night. WESA reports:

Wolf argued that the pension system itself is not flawed, but that the state needs to put more money into fully funding its pension obligations.

“Governors have not adequately paid into that fund,” Wolf said. “We need to figure out a way to do that, pay that debt, because that balance keeps coming up. I plan to do something about that. I will not keep delaying payment, I will do something.”

Corbett took issue with Wolf’s assertion that his and previous administrations have not adequately paid into the system, and instead said it’s the system itself that needs to be overhauled.

“We do have to, though, bite the bullet and start reforming how we’re paying into that system, rather than continuing to say we’re just going to continue to pay at $610 million new dollars each year for the next, I think it’s 25 years,” Corbett said.

Corbett seemed to dodge the issue of failing to pay the state’s actuarially required contributions (ARC). But Wolf has a point.

CREDIT: Ballotpedia
CREDIT: Ballotpedia

Since 2008, Pennsylvania has consistently shorted its largest pension funds.

The state has gone above and beyond when it comes to making payments to the Municipal Retirement System (MRS); but that system is also much smaller than the others.

Both candidates have points here. Wolf is right that Corbett has shorted the pension system. But while making full payments would be a step in the right direction, it wouldn’t solve the system’s funding crisis on its own.

U.S. Supreme Court Won’t Hear New Orleans Pension Case

U.S. Supreme Court

New Orleans has failed to pay $17.5 million in required pension contributions to the city’s firefighters’ pension fund since 2010. A state court last year ruled that the city had to repay the fund in full, and an appeals court affirmed the ruling.

But New Orleans tried to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court – the city argued that it shouldn’t have had to shoulder the cost of the pension fund’s failed investments, which led to a decreased funding ratio and required higher payments from the city.

But today, the U.S. Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear the case. From NOLA.com:

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to stay out of the ongoing legal feud between the Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the New Orleans firefighters’ pension board, leaving the city to cover disputed payments to the firefighters’ collective retirement account over the past four years.

The high court refused on Monday to hear an appeal from Landrieu arguing that state Judge Robin Giarrusso overstepped her authority when in March 2013 she ordered City Hall to immediately pay $17.5 million to the firefighters’ pension fund for shortfalls in 2012. Her ruling was upheld by the state’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in December.

The Supreme Court’s decision likely will have little bearing on the case, considering that Landrieu and the pension board have begun work on a compromise. On Friday, the two sides agreed to refinance the city’s debts to the fund, a shift that would considerably lower the city’s monthly payments should Giarrusso agree to it. That $17.5 million bill, for instance, would be lowered to $9.2 million under the proposed arrangement.

The two sides go back to District court on October 21.


Photo by  Mark Fischer via Flickr CC License

Roger Martin: CalPERS, Other Top Funds Could Undermine Capitalism


Roger Martin, Academic Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management and the world’s 3rd most influential business thinker according to the Thinkers50 list, has written a thought-provoking column over at the Harvard Business Review.

The premise of the column is that the largest pension funds are monopolistic entities – and although Martin doesn’t think they’re doing a bad job, he is worried that, like most monopolies in history, they will “slowly but surely gravitate to serving themselves, not their customers.”

Here’s a few excerpts from the column:

The top 350 pension and sovereign wealth funds control just under $20 trillion of assets. They are the largest holders of securities in for-profit organizations competing in democratic capitalist environments.


If one looks carefully at these holders of competitive, capitalist company securities, one thing jumps out distinctly: they are not themselves competitive, capitalist organizations. Virtually all of them share a single form: a monopoly enforced by government regulation. As a Canadian, I have no choice as to where the pension contributions that are legally deducted from my paycheck go. Whether I like it or not they are sent to the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board. CPPIB is granted a monopoly right by the Government of Canada to serve me (except in Quebec, where the relevant and equivalent monopoly body is the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec).

The same rules hold in the home of the brave and the land of the free. California state employees, Texas teachers, and New York City workers have zero choice. They are served by government-regulated pension fund monopolies. In fact, 19 of the top 25 U.S. pension funds, with $2.1 trillion of assets under management, are government-regulated monopolies. The other six, with $500 billion of assets, are corporate-run monopolies in which employees have little or no ability to opt out.

Capitalism has broad support because of a general belief in the power of competition, free entry to industries, and customer choice to produce increasing productivity and high levels of innovation. However, the ownership of those actively competing companies is increasingly in the hands of organizations that face zero competition, no threat of entry, and have customers who are forced to use them.

Why is putting the economy in the hands of regulated monopolists a good idea? Obviously, many of those monopolists are doing a good job. I don’t begrudge sending my pension deductions to CPPIB because it is well run and does a nice job for me with my pension savings, and I have to applaud California Public Employees’ Pension Fund (America’s second largest pension fund with about a quarter of a trillion dollars of assets under management) for making the bold and brilliant decision to eliminate hedge fund investments from its holdings.

But the broad history of regulated monopolies is not inspiring. Without the forcing mechanisms of competition, entry, and choice, monopolies slowly but surely gravitate to serving themselves, not their customers.


If we really believe in competition and choice, then a big question we should all be asking ourselves today is what should be done about our monopolistic pension system?

You can read the rest of the piece here.


Photo by Dave Rutt via Flickr CC License

Deprecated: Function get_magic_quotes_gpc() is deprecated in /home/mhuddelson/public_html/pension360.org/wp-includes/formatting.php on line 3712