Video: How Do Public Pensions Invest? A Primer

Here’s an informative, extended look at how public pension funds invest — from principles and preferences, to assumptions and returns. The presentation was given by the National Institute on Retirement Security.

The presentation is moderated by Diane Oakley, Executive Director of NIRS. Panelists include Ronnnie Jung, CPA, a former executive director of TRS Texas; and Nari Rhee, PhD, Manager of Research at NIRS.

The video is a recording of a webinar that took place in 2013 – but its still holds up as an interesting and informative primer on public pension investing.


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Report: Hedge Funds Expect Pensions To Up Their Allocations in 2015

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State Street has published a new report, titled The Alpha Game, which analyzes a survey that quizzed 235 hedge fund managers on what the future holds for pensions investing in hedge funds, and other industry trends.

The majority of managers think pension funds will increase their hedge fund holdings over the next few years.

Some key points, from ValueWalk:

The State Street report points out that hedge fund managers are expecting increased capital flows over the next few years. The survey highlighted that nearly two-thirds (65%) of hedge fund managers anticipate ultra-high-net-worth investors will increase their hedge fund holdings, and almost the same number (63%) expect institutional investors will also up their alternative positions. Furthermore, over half (55%) of managers believe pension funds will increase their allocations to alternatives as they look for improved performance and greater diversification

Hedge fund managers also think the main reason for pension funds reducing exposure to Hedge Funds will be disappointment with returns. Nearly half (47%) noted this as their primary concern. The report noter: “This highlights the sharp focus on hedge funds’ ability to deliver value and align with institutional needs.”

Over half of the hedge fund professionals surveyed (53%) think the main reason why pension funds will invest more in hedge funds is to try and boost portfolio performance. Just over one-third (35%) think pension funds are mostly trying to improve portfolio diversification.

The full report can be read here.


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Study: Despite Improvements, Pension Fund Governance Cause for “Concern”

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A new paper by Keith Ambachtsheer and John McLaughlin dives into pension fund governance and concludes that, although governance has improved, there are still causes for “concern”.


Pension funds and other major investors are failing to act sufficiently to promote good governance and long-term investing, according to a new study.


They found there had been some improvement in governance of pension funds and other major investment institutions, but many “major concerns” still remain.

Ambachtsheer and McLaughlin updated previous governance surveys to add force to the initiative, quizzing 81 major pension funds with total assets in excess of $5 trillion.

“Despite evidence that board effectiveness is marginally improving, our survey-based study conducted in 2014 finds that much work still needs to be done,” the authors wrote.

Among their governance concerns, Ambachtsheer and McLaughlin listed “flawed” board selection processes, unclear board oversight functions, and uncompetitive pay packages hampering recruitment and retention of talent.

“It will require a concerted, ongoing joint effort by pension plan stakeholders, pension organization boards, regulators, and legislators to change the current situation,” the pair said.

The paper, which also covers long-term investing efforts, can be read here.

Ontario Teachers Pension Buys Storage Company


The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan has announced it will buy PODS, a moving and portable storage company.

Ontario Teachers’ will purchase the entire company; the sale will be finalized in early 2015.

From the Tampa Bay Business Journal:

“We are excited about our new ownership by Teachers’ and are also appreciative of the support we received from Arcapita and our board of directors the past seven years. We look forward to working with Teachers’ to continue our growth and our commitment to our customers,” John B. Koch, president and CEO at PODS, said in a statement.

Teachers’ has a diverse portfolio of companies across the globe including Burton’s Biscuits in the United Kingdom, Canada Guaranty Mortgage Insurance Co. in Toronto and Mattress companies Serta and Simmons in the United States.

The price of the deal has not yet been released.

Arcapita bought PODS in 2007 for $430 million, according to sister publication Atlanta Business Chronicle. PODS says it pioneered the portable moving and storage industry and now operates in more than150 locations, both corporate and franchise owned, in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K.

The OTPP manages $138.9 billion in assets.

More Than 1 in 8 Seniors Targeted by Pension Scams in UK

Pink Piggy Bank On Top Of A Pile Of One Dollar Bills

New research by Fidelity has revealed that 13 percent of seniors in the UK have been targeted by scammers looking to steal pension benefits. From AOL Money:

[The scammers] promise their victims that they can free up money tied up in their pension before they hit the age of 55 – and get their hands on their 25% lump sum or more. Those who are taken in by this sort of scam will lose most – if not all – of their savings.

The way these fraudsters work is that they tell victims they can free up part of their pension, and then the rest will be invested for them – often with a guaranteed return. In order to get their hands on their cash they have to transfer their pension into the ownership of the business the scammers have established for this purpose.

Often they will receive some sort of lump sum, but then the fraudsters will disappear with the rest of it. To make matters worse, because the pension investor has accessed their pension earlier than is allowed, they will also be hit with punitive taxes from the taxman.

Pension360 has covered a similarly harmful, but mostly legal, scam that occurs in the United States. Businesses offer seniors pension “advances”, which work like payday loans. Missouri is the only state to ban the practice so far.


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You’ve Heard of Minimum Wage. What About a Minimum Pension?

Sack filled with one hundred dollar bills. RetirementMinimum wage laws are designed, in theory, to give every worker a livable wage and a decent standard of living. But what if the same concept was applied to retirement savings?

Third Way, a moderate think tank, has proposed just that: a minimum, mandatory “pension” that all employers would give their employees based on hours worked.

From the proposal:

We propose a minimum pension law—a requirement that employers contribute a minimum of 50 cents per hour worked, for every worker, into a retirement plan. A minimum pension would provide all workers with the opportunity to create their own personal wealth—providing for a more secure retirement and a reduction of the current wealth disparity in our country. With improved access to simple investment vehicles and tax breaks that aid small businesses, employers would largely benefit too.

And from International Business Times:

“A minimum pension sounds like a minimum wage, and it is,” David Brown and Kimberly Pucher, the authors of Third Way’s report, wrote. “The minimum pension requires that, in addition to wages, employees must receive at least 50 cents an hour in retirement contributions.”

That’s a minimum contribution of $1,000 a year to full-time, full-year workers, to be indexed for inflation.

Third Way drafted the proposal, in part, because of a recent barrage of statistics suggesting many Americans aren’t nearly as ready for retirement as they’d like. From International Business Times:

The public sector and most private sector companies offer retirement plans, but about 30 percent of non-retired Americans have no money saved for retirement, the Federal Reserve reported last month. Most workers who aren’t saving for retirement have lower incomes and two-thirds of them work for companies that don’t offer a retirement savings plan, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. Many of those who are saving aren’t saving enough, so though Americans pay $140 billion each year subsidizing retirement accounts, millions are nearing retirement with little or nothing saved.

You can read the entire proposal here.


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Report Reveals World’s Largest Pension Funds


Towers Watson released its annual Global 300 report and revealed the largest pension funds in the world. Six of the 20 largest funds were public funds in the United States.

From Asia Asset Management:

With more than US$1.2 trillion in assets, Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) was for the tenth-year running ranked as the world’s largest retirement savings manager in an annual Towers Watson report.


North America remained the largest region in terms of assets, accounting for 41.4% of the worldwide total. According to the consulting firm, the leading 300 players now make up 47% of pension assets globally.

Here are the 20 largest pension funds in the world, according to the report:

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Source: Towers Watson

Pension Funds Stay Silent on Corporate Tax Avoidance

Monopoly Board income tax

Pension funds are no strangers to using their clout to push for changes within the companies they invest in—in the last few years, dozens of funds have called for more sustainable business practices from fossil fuel-oriented companies and advocated new safety guidelines for gun manufacturers.

But on one issue, public pension funds are remaining silent. The issue: corporate tax avoidance. As reported by the New York Times:

In the outcry about the recent merger mania to take advantage of the tax avoidance transactions known as inversions, certain key players have been notably silent: public pension funds.

Many of the nation’s largest public pension funds — managing trillions of dollars on behalf of police and fire departments, teachers and others — have major stakes in American companies that are seeking to renounce their corporate citizenship in order to lower their tax bill.

While politicians have criticized these types of deals — President Obama has called them “wrong” and he is examining ways to end the practice — public pension funds don’t appear to be using their influence as major shareholders to encourage corporations to stay put.

Tax avoidance made headlines again last week when Burger King announced it was buying Tim Horton’s, a move which would make Burger King a “citizen” of Canada for tax purposes.

Pension funds didn’t speak up. But why? The NY Times speculates that investment performance has a lot to do with it:

Public pension funds may be so meek on the issue of inversions because they are conflicted. On one side, the funds say they care about the long term and the implications for their state. Calpers’s “Investment Beliefs” policy states that the pension system should “consider the impact of its actions on future generations of members and taxpayers,” yet most pension funds are underfunded and, frankly, desperate to show investment returns. Mergers for tax inversion can prop up share prices of the acquirers and clearly help pension funds, at least in the short term, show improved performance.

CalPERS is usually one of the first funds to use “activist investing” tactics to push for changes in the companies they invest in. But the fund has remained unusually quiet. The fund talked to the NY Times and gave an explanation:

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the nation’s largest public pension fund and typically one of the most vocal, has remained silent.

“We don’t have a view on this from an investor standpoint — we’re globally invested, as you know, and appreciate that tax reform is a government role,” Anne Simpson, Calpers’s senior portfolio manager and director of global governance, told me. “We do expect companies to act with integrity, whatever the issue at hand — that goes without saying. We also want to see a focus on the long term.”

When I pressed for more, her spokesman wrote to me, “We’re going to have to take a pass on this one.”

Mark Cuban recently stated that he would sell the stock of any company that moved out of the United States to avoid taxes.


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South Carolina Pension Investment Commission Names New Executive Director

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The South Carolina Retirement Investment Commission hopes it has found long-term leadership with its newest hire today.

The Commission, which oversees the state’s pension investments, has hired Michael Hitchcock to be its executive director. As reported by the Associated Press:

For the second time in three months, the agency investing South Carolina’s pension portfolio has named an executive director.

The Retirement Systems Investment Commission voted 4-2 on Tuesday to hire Michael Hitchcock, who takes the job Sept. 8. Hitchcock has been the chief attorney and assistant clerk of the South Carolina Senate since 2001. His salary will be $230,000.

Pension360 had previously covered the resignation of Sarah Corbett, who became executive director on June 3 but resigned from the position after two months.

Previous to Corbett, the Commission didn’t have an executive director position. It created the position last Spring.

The Commission manages nearly $30 billion worth of assets

Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System Rakes in 22 Percent Returns


Driven in large part by index-beating equity investments, the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System returned 22 percent for the fiscal year 2013-14, according to the System’s director. That number takes into account investment expenses and manager fees.

The System outperformed its internal benchmark, which was 18.1 percent for 2013-14. A more detailed breakdown of returns from Pensions and Investments:

The top performer was master limited partnerships, which returned approximately 42%, followed by total domestic equity, 27.6%; international equity, 21.1%; high-yield bonds, 12.5%; and core fixed income, 7.9%. Real estate and private equity returns were not provided.

Longer term, the pension returned a compound annualized 13.6% for the three years ended June 30, 16.1% for five years and 9% for 10 years.

As of June 30, the pension fund’s actual asset allocation was 45.7% domestic equity; 22.2% total “non-core” assets, which consists of 8.8% MLPs, 5.5% high-yield bonds, 4.1% real estate, 2.6% private equity and 1.2% opportunistic assets;, 16.6% international equity, 14.9% core fixed income and the rest in cash. The pension fund’s target allocations are 40% domestic equity, 25% total “non-core” assets and 17.5% each international equity and core fixed income.

Pensions and Investments also reports that several of the firms with which the pension fund invests with have been put “on alert”. From P&I:

Geneva Capital Management was put “on alert” as a result of being acquired by Henderson Global Investors. Geneva Capital Management runs a $186 million domestic small-cap growth equity strategy for Oklahoma Teachers.

Lord Abbett was put also put on alert for personnel changes. Lord Abbett currently manages $603 million in a core fixed-income strategy and $262 million in a high-yield fixed-income strategy for the pension fund.

Being put on alert is a step below being placed “on notice,” which is the last step before termination.


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