Geithner Tells NJ Pension Panel He’s Bullish on Economy

New Jersey seal

Former U.S. Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner made an appearance at Thursday’s meeting of New Jersey’s State Investment Council, the entity that oversees the state’s pension investments.

Geithner was at the meeting because he is president of a private equity firm, Warburg Pincus, that handles a portion of the state’s pension money.

During his appearance, he talked about his optimism on the state of the U.S. economy. Reported by

Timothy Geithner, the former U.S. Treasury secretary and an architect of the Wall Street bailout, today told New Jersey’s pension investment council that despite the challenges of a “complicated, messy world,” he’s optimistic about the nation’s economy.

“The economy today looks much more resilient than it’s been in some time,” Geithner said, noting the expansion after the Great Recession has been moderate, steady and matched with restructuring of important financial underpinnings.


Taking questions from the council, he counseled them on global dynamics, including Russia, China and the emerging markets.

The U.S. is well-positioned to benefit from growth in those markets, that while “volatile and uncertain,” will grow faster in the long-term, he said.

“I think there is a reasonable basis for believing that we’re still at the early state of what’s likely to be a long period where average growth in these emerging economies is still two or three times the growth of major economies,” he said.

The meeting was also notable because it saw the release of an audit into a potential pay-to-play rule violation by Charlie Baker. The audit cleared Baker of any wrongdoing.

Video: Raimondo Talks Pension Settlement, Defends 2011 Reforms

In this interview, new Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo discusses the amount of fees the pension system pays to Wall Street managers and defends her pension reforms (2:00 mark); she also talks about a possible settlement with the retirees suing the state over those reforms (3:20 mark).


Photo by By Jim Jones (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Major Creditor Comes Out Against San Bernardino Bankruptcy Plan That Fully Pays CalPERS

California flag

A major creditor of bankrupt San Bernardino told Reuters Thursday that it would oppose a bankruptcy plan that mandates the city keep paying CalPERS in full.

San Bernardino’s current plan doesn’t disrupt payments to CalPERS and keeps pensions intact.

The creditor has not been identified.

From Reuters:

A major capital markets creditor of bankrupt San Bernardino, California, will oppose any exit plan that is more favorable to Calpers, California’s public pension fund, a source familiar with the creditor’s strategy said on Thursday.

The creditor intends to pursue a new approach when hearings resume next year, in light of a deal the city reached with Calpers in November that will see the pension fund paid in full under a bankruptcy plan. The city has been ordered to produce a plan by May.

“We will strongly resist a plan that treats its pension claims substantially better than our claim,” the source involved in the creditor’s San Bernardino strategy said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because negotiations with San Bernardino are subject to a judicial gag order.

The move is significant because all the capital market creditors have so far supported the bankruptcy and it signals a change in course, speaking to the wider fight between Wall Street and pension funds over how they are treated in municipal bankruptcies.

San Bernardino declared bankruptcy in July of 2012.

Implications for Pension Investments As Elections Put Ex-Financial Firm Executives in Office

voting sign

The results of several state-level elections could have implications for pension fund investments as three ex-financial firm executives became their states’ respective governors.

David Sirota writes:

Wall Street firms and executives have poured campaign contributions into states that have embraced the strategy, eager for expanded opportunities. Tuesday’s results affirmed that this money was well spent: More public pension money will now likely be entrusted to the financial services industry.

In Illinois, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn was defeated by Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, who made his fortune as one of the namesakes of Golder, Thoma, Cressey & Rauner (GTCR) – a financial firm that manages more than $40 million of the state’s $50 billion pension system. Rauner — who retains an ownership stake in at least 15 separate GTCR entities, according to his financial disclosure forms— will now be fully in charge of the pension system.

In Rhode Island, venture capitalist Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, defeated Republican Allan Fung. Raimondo retains an ownership stake in a firm that manages funds from Rhode Island’s $7 billion pension system. Raimondo’s campaign received hundreds of thousands of dollars from financial industry donors. She was also aided by six-figure PAC donations from former Enron trader John Arnold, who has waged a national campaign to slash workers’ pensions. Fung slammed Raimondo as a tool of Wall Street, but she eked out a victory after a libertarian-leaning third party candidate, Robert Healy, unexpectedly siphoned votes away from Fung.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, handily defeated his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, after raising millions of dollars from the finance industry. The New York legislature is set to send Cuomo a bill that would permit the New York state and city pension funds to move an additional $7 billion into hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, real estate and other high-fee “alternative” investments. Assuming the standard 1 to 2 percent management fees applies, that could generate between $70 million and $150 million a year in fresh fees for Wall Street firms.

Cuomo has not taken a public position on the bill, but his party in the legislature passed it by a wide margin, and he is widely expected to sign it into law.

In Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker appeared early Wednesday to have secured a narrow victory over Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Baker was a board member of mutual funds managed by a financial firm that also manages funds from Massachusetts’ $53 billion pension system. Baker is also the subject of a New Jersey investigation over his $10,000 contribution to the New Jersey State Republican Party just months before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s officials awarded his firm a state pension deal. Christie, whose Republican Governors Association spent heavily to support Baker’s campaign, blocked the release of documents related to that investigation until after the election.

Read the full analysis here.


Photo by Keith Ivey via Flickr CC License

Does Investment Return Affect Pension Costs?

Graph With Stacks Of Coins

Does Investment Return Affect Pension Costs? Larry Bader, who worked as an actuary for 20 years before moving to Wall Street, tackled that question in the latest issue of the Financial Analysts Journal.

An excerpt of his answer:

Answer: It doesn’t.

Yes, a higher return on plan assets reduces the funding requirements for the pension plan and the expense that the sponsor must report. But the plan’s true economic cost is independent of the investment performance of the plan assets.

To see why this is so, suppose that you establish a fund to pay for your child’s college education and I do the same for my child. We make equal contributions to our respective funds, and we both face the same tuition payments. But being a smarter, bolder, or luckier investor, you grow your college fund to twice the size of mine. Can we now say that your child’s education costs less than my child’s education? Surely not. Our tuition payments are the same; it’s just that you have a larger education fund available to help pay your child’s tuition.

Or think of it this way: Suppose that your college education fund performed miserably and a similar fund that you had set up to buy a small vacation home struck it rich. Would you now say that college tuition has become very expensive but vacation homes very cheap? Can you now afford to buy a vacation mansion — or private island — but not to send your child to college? Behavioral economics suggests that you might think along those lines, but common sense says, “Get over it.”

Similarly, a higher pension fund return does not lower the economic cost of the plan. The economic cost reflects solely the amount and timing of the pension payments, which are unaffected by the size or growth of the assets.

To read the full answer, click here.

Anonymous Money Floods Phoenix Pension Vote

Phoenix Proposition 487

A Phoenix ballot initiative – titled Proposition 487 – would block off the city’s traditional pension system from all new hires, and instead shift those employees into a new, 401(k)-style plan.

Unions have made no secret of their disdain for the initiative and have raised over $100,000, mostly from firefighters, to fund ads opposing the potential law.

But support for Proposition 487 is strong as well – $428,200 has been raised in support of the measure. The only problem: no one knows where that money is coming from. From the Arizona Republic:

Conservative advocacy groups with secretive funding sources are pouring money into a ballot-initiative effort to end the city pension system in Phoenix.

While it’s clear unions are bankrolling the opposition to Proposition 487, the sources of the pro side’s campaign war chest are unknown. Most of its cash has come from anonymous “dark money” groups — and the state is investigating its largest corporate backer over a complaint alleging campaign-finance violations.

So far, Citizens for Phoenix Pension Reform has received 98.5 percent of its money from corporate groups that don’t have to disclose their funding sources.

Campaign-finance reports filed late last week show the group has overwhelmingly outraised government-worker unions, raking in $428,200 through the Sept. 15 reporting period.


Most of the pro-reform group’s money — $335,750 — has come from the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a non-profit corporation that’s not required to reveal its funding sources.

Because of its non-profit status, it does not have to disclose donors and therefore is considered a dark-money group. But it is required to spend more than half of its money on social-welfare causes. However, the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office concluded in August that there was “reasonable cause” to believe the Free Enterprise Club has violated elections laws and investigated its activities. Elections officials believe the club operates more like a political committee, which must disclose donors, than a non-profit.

Union groups are none too happy about the secretive funding sources. From the Arizona Republic:

Labor leaders against the initiative have made the shadow money a centerpiece of their campaign, posting hundreds of “Dark Money” arrows pointing to “YES on 487″ signs across the city. They assert the outside groups are propped up by right-wing billionaires and Wall Street bankers, who would benefit from axing pensions.

“If you have nothing to fear, say where your money is coming from,” said Frank Piccioli, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2960, which includes about 2,145 office workers and 911 operators.

“Most of them do have ulterior interests. They have to be benefiting somebody,” he said. “What do you have to hide?”

Unions have raised $106,600 to fight Prop. 487, with the bulk of the money coming from Valley firefighter unions. The opposition campaign reported contributions from firefighters in Phoenix, Chandler, Tempe, Glendale and Peoria. The anti-Prop. 487 campaign also isn’t required to disclose individual donors, though labor leaders said the money comes from membership dues.

Phoenix residents will vote on the measure on November 4.

Report: Maryland Fund’s Below-Median Returns Coincide With Shift to Alternatives

Maryland Proof

The Maryland State Retirement and Pension System experienced a 14 percent return in the 2013-14 fiscal year. The fund’s then-Chief Investment Officer, Melissa Moye, touted the returns as “strong” – but a new report suggests not only that those returns were below-median level, but also that they were driven by a shift in investment strategy that put more money in alternative investments.

From David Sirota at the International Business Times:

According to [report authors] Walters and Hooke, a former Lehman Brothers executive, that shift [of assets to Wall Street] coincided with below-median returns for Maryland’s public pension system.

“Ironically, as the fund’s relative performance has declined, its Wall Street money management fees have risen,” the report says. “In fiscal year 2014 alone, the Maryland state pension fund paid out roughly $300 million in fees to Wall Street money managers. Over the past 10 years, these money management fees amounted to over $1.5 billion, according to the fund’s annual financial reports. Nevertheless this high-priced advice resulted in 10-year returns that were $3.22 billion (net of fees) below the median.”

If the fund had matched medianreturns for public pension systems across the country, “the state could have awarded 80,000 poor children with $40,000 four-year college scholarships,” Hooke and Walters wrote.

Maryland’s shift into alternative investments happened while the securities and investment industries made more than $292,000 worth of campaign contributions to Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who appoints some members of the Maryland pension system’s board of trustees. Vice News has reported that the Private Equity Growth Capital Group is a financial backer of a 501(c)4 group co-founded by O’Malley. In May, Pensions and Investments magazine reported that the Maryland governor appointed a managing director of an alternative investment firm called The Rock Creek Group to head a state task force on retirement policy.

Meanwhile, the chief investment officer of Maryland’s pension system was recently appointed to a senior position in the U.S. Treasury Department overseeing public pension policy.

“Eliminating active managers, selling alternative investments, and adopting indexing for 90 percent of the state’s portfolio would ensure median performance,” his report concludes. “These actions would also save the state huge amounts in money management fees.”

Hooke has testified in front of lawmakers advocating the increased use of index funds in pension investments – a strategy that would have worked well the last 4 or 5 years, but one that offers little protection against market contractions.

Since 2008, Maryland has more than doubled its investments in private equity, real estate and hedge funds. Those asset classes made up 29 percent of its portfolio in 2013.

Wall Street Securitizes Pension Liabilities to Create “Longevity Derivatives”

Wall Street sign

No one ever said Wall Street wasn’t creative.

Several firms are selling securities backed by longevity risk—the risk that retirees receiving benefits will live longer than expected and thus incur a higher cost on their retirement plan. More from Institutional Investor:

Sovereign wealth funds, educational endowments and ultrahigh-net-worth individuals are the target investors for longevity derivatives, which package the risk that retirees drawing annuities will outlive actuarial expectations.

The roots of this nascent market date back to 2006, when small monoline insurance companies such as U.K.-based Lucida (purchased by Legal & General in June 2013) and Paternoster (bought by Goldman Sachs Group in 2011) began taking longevity risk off European pension funds through bulk annuity buyouts.

These buyouts entail a company selling pension assets earmarked for all or some of its plan participants. The assets are converted to annuities that the sponsor can keep on its books or off-load to the insurer.


Banks build longevity derivatives products using risk models provided by firms like Newark, California–based Risk Management Solutions (RMS). They’ve closed a dozen such deals, but the customized structure can be tough for investors to grasp. Deutsche Bank is focused on creating a path into the capital markets, according to Paul Puleo, global head of pension and insurance risk markets in New York.

In December 2013, Deutsche created longevity experience options, or LEOs, a more standardized product tailored to capital markets participants. Longevity derivatives resemble the older catastrophe bond, or insurance-linked security (ILS), market, which packages insurance against natural disasters. A key difference between longevity insurance derivatives and cat bonds is that there are now a number of hedge funds dedicated to the ILS market.

Who buys these securities? It’s been mostly life insurers so far. But firms anticipate other interested parties will soon be buying up these instruments, as well. From Institutional Investor:

Although it’s been difficult for capital markets participants to compete with such natural buyers, long-term investors like sovereign wealth funds may find the portfolio diversification attractive. Ultrahigh-net-worth investors might also be interested, says Peter Nakada, Hoboken, New Jersey–based head of the life risks and capital markets units at RMS. These products can be viewed as a social good because they provide insurance for people who may not have enough cash in retirement, Nakada posits: A wealthy individual makes good money now by purchasing them; in the unlikely event that retirees exhaust their annuities, the monetary outlay can provide financial relief to the needy elderly.

The firms selling these instruments seem to realize the market is “immature” and it will take investors a while to warm up to them. But several industry sources told Institutional Investor they see longevity derivatives as a diversification tool and a good fit for portfolios of endowment funds and even high-worth individual investors.

Raimondo, Taveras Continue Throwing Pension Punches in Race for Rhode Island Governorship

The pension system continues to occupy center stage in Rhode Island’s race for governor. In one corner is current state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, whose 2011 pension reforms were among the boldest in the country and are the subject of numerous lawsuits from labor groups.

In the other corner in Angel Taveras, the current mayor of Providence who has been critical of the pension system’s investments under Raimondo and has accused the Treasurer of being in bed with Wall Street.

Raimondo released a new campaign ad yesterday – you can watch it above – that responded to Taveras’ claims. The Providence Journal reports:

In a new one-minute TV ad released to the media on Monday morning, Raimondo, the state’s general treasurer, looks into the camera and says of her leading rival in the Democratic primary race for governor:

“I’m Gina Raimondo and you might have heard about Mayor Taveras attacking pension reform, claiming I did it to enrich Wall Street. Nothing could be more wrong.”

“I was 11 years old when my dad lost his job at Bulova. I have never forgotten how hard that was. So when I became treasurer and inherited the pension crisis, I knew if we didn’t face up to the problem a lot of people were going to get hurt. And we couldn’t let that happen” she says in the video.

Raimondo, who is being sued by the state’s public-employee unions, next says: “Our reforms passed by overwhelming majorities in the legislature and, in the end, most of our changes were agreed to by every union except one.”

The Taveras campaign has been extremely critical of the hedge funds investments and accompanying investment fees incurred by the state’s pension system under Raimondo’s watch.

A Taveras spokesperson responded to Raimondo’s new ad:

“As a former venture capitalist who raised fees to Wall Street to $70 million, the Treasurer [Raimondo] has taken over $500,000 from the financial industry. The Treasurer received a no bid, secret contract managing taxpayer money that ensured that her venture capital firm was paid whether they made money or not. Rhode Island deserves a governor who has a record of standing up to Wall Street.”

Raimondo has been adamant that most unions were receptive to her reforms. But several union leaders have gone on record to say that is not the case. As the leaders told the Providence Journal:

Leaders of several of the state’s public-employee unions — including Council 94, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — accused Raimondo of misrepresenting their position in the high-stakes pension fight headed for trial next month.

“Council 94, AFSCME vigorously opposed the pension changes. The treasurer’s process was a farce,” said Council 94 President J. Michael Downey, a Taveras backer.

“Our ideas and suggested amendments were ignored. She broke her word about taking care of people with the least amount of pension benefits, in her words: ‘the little guy.’ And she harmed many municipal employees whose pensions were healthy,” Downey said.

Added Paul Reed, president of the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters: “She never negotiated with us on any of these things.”

Both of those union leaders support Taveras.

Watch Taveras’ original ad below: