Which Pension Fund Is Best At Investing In Private Equity? The Results Are In


Reuters PE Hub recently surveyed 160 public pension funds across the country in an attempt to pinpoint the fund with the highest-performing private equity portfolio.

The results of the survey were released this month, and the fund with the best performance from private equity was the San Diego City Employees Retirement System (SDCERS). From KUSI News:

SDCERS’ private equity portfolio consists of 45 different funds, with commitments of $580 million. The survey noted 47 percent of SDCERS’ funds performed in the top 25 percent of all funds surveyed. The private equity program invests in all types of assets and strategies globally, including buyouts, special situations and venture capital funds.

“The success of SDCERS’ private equity program can be attributed to the thoughtful way in which the program was constructed, and the quality of the dialogue between staff and consultants,” SDCERS CEO Mark Hovey said. “I am proud of our investments team and the Board of Administration, who work tirelessly to secure a retirement future for more than 200,000 members through an effective investment strategy focused on delivering long-term results.”

SDCERS shouldn’t be confused with the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association, which gained notoriety this week when the Wall Street Journal reported on the fund’s heavy reliance on alternative investments.

SDCERS was 68.6 percent funded as of 2013.


CalPERS Rescinds $700 Million Investment With Private Equity Fund Headed By Doctor With No Private Equity Experience


You probably trust your doctor with your life. But with your money? Many people might balk at the notion of their doctor making their investment decisions for them.

But back in 2007, CalPERS made a big bet: a $705 million investment in a private equity fund, Health Evolution Partners Inc., specializing in health care companies.

The CEO of the fund, David Brailer, is a nationally renowned physician who had previously been the “health czar” under George W. Bush. But this was his first foray into the investment space, and he had no experience running an investment fund or making private equity investments.

Still, he reportedly promised the CalPERS board healthy returns in excess of 20 percent.

But through seven years, the fund has never managed to exceed single-digit returns. And portions of CalPERS’ investment have actually experienced negative returns.

That has led CalPERS to cut ties with the fund, according to Pensions & Investments:

CalPERS is ending its unique experiment as the sole limited partner of Health Evolution Partners Inc., a private equity firm that focuses on health-care companies.

CalPERS data show the HEP Growth Fund had an internal rate of return of 6.5% from its inception in mid-2009 through Dec. 31, 2013. By contrast, the $5.3 billion growth fund portion of CalPERS’ private equity portfolio returned 12.72% for the five years ended Dec. 31, the closest comparison that could be made with the data the pension fund made available.

The HEP fund of funds has had more serious performance problems. Its IRR from inception in 2007 through Dec. 31, 2013 was -5.2%, show CalPERS statistics. CalPERS also wants out of that investment, but sources say a complicated fund-of-fund structure may make that difficult.

Mr. Desrochers would not comment on HEP, telling a Pensions & Investments reporter the matter was too sensitive to discuss.

CalPERS spokesman Joe DeAnda, in an e-mail, said, “We continue to evaluate all options relating to Health Evolution Partners.”

Mr. Brailer did not return several phone calls.

CalPERS paid the fund over $18 million in fees in the fiscal year 2011-12, according to the System’s financial report.

Meanwhile, CalPERS is gearing up for another large investment partnership, to the tune of $500 million, that will focus on infrastructure investments. FTSE Global Markets reports:

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) today announced a new $500m global infrastructure partnership with UBS Global Asset Management.

CalPERS, the largest public pension fund in the US, will contribute $485m to the newly formed company, while UBS will contribute $15m and act as managing member.

The partnership will operate as Golden State Matterhorn, LLC and is set to pursue infrastructure investment opportunities in the US and global developed markets.

“UBS brings extensive experience and a proven track record in global infrastructure investing that makes them a great fit for this partnership,” says Ted Eliopoulos, CalPERS Interim Chief Investment Officer. “We’re excited to work with them as we identify and acquire core assets that will provide the best risk-adjusted returns for our portfolio.”

The CalPERS Infrastructure Program seeks to provide stable, risk-adjusted returns to the total fund by investing in public and private infrastructure, primarily within the transportation, power, energy, and water sectors.

Infrastructure investments returned 22.8% during the 2013-14 fiscal year and 23.3% over the past five years, outperforming the benchmark by 17.23 and 16.6 percentage points, respectively.

CalPERS holds about $1.8 billion in infrastructure assets.


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Private Equity Sets Sights on 401(k)s


Private equity funds have been a staple of the investments of defined-benefit plans for decades. But as the prominence of defined-benefit plans diminish and defined-contribution plans rise in their place, private equity firms now have their eyes on another prize: 401(k)s.

So said several major private equity players who spoke as part of a panel discussion at the Fifth Annual Innovative Alternative Investment Strategies Conference on Thursday.

From Financial Advisor magazine:

[Red Rocks Capital co-founder Mark] Sunderhuse sees big opportunity for private equity in the defined contribution space. “Target-date plans will use private equity,” he said. “There’s a lot of work with consultants going on, and different types of products will fit different boxes. We’ve had conversations with a number of people in more mainstream mutual fund-type formats where they’ll use it [the Red Rocks fund]. Our product is primarily used in investment models where people want private equity exposure in way where they can manage the risk and be able to reallocate it and rebalance it.”

Kevin Albert, a partner at Pantheon, a global private equity investment company, said U.S. public pension plans on average have 10 percent of their assets in private equity. But defined benefit pension plans are becoming dinosaurs both in the U.S. and abroad.

“That has motivated the best firms in the private equity industry to raise capital from other sources, and the two biggest other sources are defined contribution plans and private affluent investors,” Albert said. “And that’s a good thing because 15 years ago it was hard to convince a top 10 private equity fund to raise a feeder fund or to participate in an offering that would go to individual investors. They saw it as less prestigious, and viewed it as more complicated from a regulatory perspective.

“Now you’re seeing firms like Carlyle, KKR and Blackstone at the vanguard of this,” he continued. “So I think we’re in the middle of an amazing revolution in the repackaging of private equity to make it attractive to defined contribution plans, which have different needs and desires than defined benefit plans did. So I think that will be a meaningful difference in this industry from five, 10, 15 years ago.”

The discussion came up when the panelists were asked to explain a few key trends they see playing out in private equity in the next five years.


Photo by 401kcalculator.org

Value of New York City Funds Reach All-Time High After Big Returns


New York City’s pension funds together returned over 17 percent for fiscal year 2013-14, the City’s strongest return since fiscal year 2010-11. As a result, the value of the City’s pension system has reached an all-time high. From Reuters:

New York City’s pension system had a banner fiscal year in 2014, increasing its total value to a record $160.5 billion, Comptroller Scott Stringer is set to announce on Monday.

That is a nearly $19 billion increase from the fiscal year ending July 31, 2013, when the five pension funds had a combined value of $141.7 billion, according to records on Stringer’s website.

As a result of the funds’ performance, the city will save $17.8 billion over the next two decades, due to an above-average rate of return, according to a press release distributed to reporters on Sunday.

“Five years of positive returns are good news for the pension funds and for the city,” Stringer said in the release.

The five combined funds had a 17.4 percent rate of return on investments for FY2014, which ended on June 30. That tops the rates of 12.1 percent in FY2013 and 1.4 percent in FY2012, but falls short of the 23.2 percent rate in FY11. The rate in FY2010 was 14.2 percent.

The assumed rate of return, which is set by the city’s actuary, is 7 percent. That means that if the funds perform below that rate, the city must make up the difference with taxpayer money.

The $17.8 billion in savings will begin in FY2016 and will be phased in over a six-year period. Each year’s incremental savings will be repeated for 15 years thereafter.

New York City is now planning on decreasing its contributions into the System, as the required payments are tied to investment returns; the bigger the returns, the less money the state is legally required to pay into the system.

Over fiscal year 2013, the S&P 500 returned nearly 22 percent.

Pension360 had previously covered the lackluster private equity returns from New York City pension funds.

The New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS) was 65 percent funded as of 2013, while the New York State and Local Retirement System was 87 percent funded.


Photo: Manhattan amk by user AngMoKio. Licensed under Creative Commons 

Maryland’s Top Fund Returns 14 Percent for Year


The Maryland State Retirement and Pension System is the latest fund to release its investment performance data for fiscal year 2013-14, and the fund returned over 14 percent for the year, the System’s second consecutive year of double-digit investment returns. From the Baltimore Post-Examiner:

Maryland’s pension system for state employees and teachers had another strong investment performance for the fiscal year which ended June 30 earning 14.37%, bringing the value of the portfolio to $45.4 billion, a gain of more than $5 billion.

It was the second year in a row of strong performance due to sharp upturns in stocks, according to Chief Investment Officer Melissa Moye. The fund exceeded its target of 7.7% and its market benchmark of 14.16% — what its basket of assets would have been expected to earn.

The System is still in a hole due to its unfunded liabilities, which sit at about $20 billion. But the major credit rating agencies, even while weary of the liabilities, have commented on the improved health of the system of late as the effects of several reform measures have been positively felt. From the BPE:

These liabilities are consistently mentioned as a negative financial factor by all three bond rating agencies as they did earlier this month.

But the three New York agencies also note the improvements made in Maryland’s pension outlook after employee contributions were raised and benefits reduced by the legislature in 2011.

“The funds annual returns continue to reflect the strong market environment that has prevailed since the end of the credit crisis,” State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, chair of the pension board, said in a statement.

Typically, the System released investment performance figures by asset category. This year, the system only released aggregate returns and did not specify returns by asset category, although those figures may be released to the public eventually.

The S&P 500 returned around 21 percent for fiscal year 2014.

New York City Funds Lag Behind on Private Equity Performance


The private equity analytics firm Bison just came out with a list ranking the private equity performance of 50 public pension funds. New York City’s pension funds have been particularly active in PE funds, and are looking to invest even more in the area in coming years. So, how did the city fare?

You have to pay to see the full rankings, but the New York Post kindly outlined the results. And the news wasn’t good for New York City’s four largest pension funds. From the NY Post:

The worst performers — the New York City Employees’ Retirement System and the New York City Teachers’ Retirement System — tied for 45th place. The police pension fund, in 42nd place, and the firefighters fund, 37th, didn’t fare much better when it came to picking private equity firms, according to the analysis by Bison, a Boston analytics firm focused on the private markets.

“They have scores that put them closer to the bottom of that list than to the top,” Bison research manager Michael Roth said. “Fund selection could be better.”

New York funds’ reliance on private equity is part of a broader strategy to produce big returns. Across the city’s five funds, about 11.5 percent of assets ($18 billion) were committed to private equity fund.

Still, the strategy isn’t working as well for New York as it is for others. From the New York Post:

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has tasked his new chief investment officer, Scott Evans, who started this week, with figuring out how to boost the pension funds’ private equity portfolio.

“While we are concerned about long-term return in private equity, we have reason to be encouraged by the relative returns of our private equity portfolio in recent years,” a spokesman for the comptroller’s office said.

For the Massachusetts state pension, which ranks 6th, every $100 invested in private equity 10 years ago generated a 17.7 percent annual return and is now worth $512. The same investment in the five NYC pensions, which combined generated a 12.4 percent return, is worth $322.

Industry sources blame the city’s byzantine system under former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who oversaw many of the pensions’ private equity investments from 2002 to 2009.

“The city was a hard place for private equity firms to navigate,” a placement agent said, adding that firms with the best records didn’t bother dealing with the city.

As of 2012, NYCERS was only 66 percent funded. The teacher’s fund was only 58 percent funded, the police fund was 64 percent funded, and the firefighters fund was a mere 52 percent funded.


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