The Maryland State and Retirement Pension System returned 14.4 percent last fiscal year – a return that the Chief Investment Officer praised as “strong” and that doubled the fund’s expected rate of return of 7.75 percent.
In a report, Jeffrey Hooke and John Walters of the Maryland Public Policy Institute say the failure to match the 17.3% return on investment made by over half the public state pension funds cost the state over $1 billion. As they have in the past, they also complained about the high fees paid to outside managers of some of the funds used by the State Retirement and Pension System, which covers 244,000 active and retired state employees and teachers and their beneficiaries
“As the table shows, the underperformance trend is not only continuing but worsening as the percentage divide widens,” said Hooke and Walters. “Part of problem may be due to the fund’s large exposure to alternative investments, such as hedge funds and private equity funds, that have tended to perform worse in recent years than traditional investments such as publicly traded stocks and bonds.”
A spokesman for the Maryland pension fund offered his response to the report:
[Spokesman] Michael Golden said the institute’s report was “flawed,” “not supported by facts,” and mischaracterized the agency’s investment performance.
“These returns have resulted in greater progress toward full funding of the system that was projected last year,” Golden said. The five-year return on investment was 11.68%, while the target for the fund is 7.7%.
Golden admitted that Maryland’s investment performance is “unimpressive” compared to other state funds.
“However, the reason for this ranking is not due to active management and fees,” Golden said. “After the financial crises of 2008-2009, the board determined that the fund had too much exposure to public equities, which historically has been one of the riskiest, most volatile asset classes, and wanted a more balanced and diversified portfolio.”
See the chart at the top of this post for a comparison between the returns of Maryland’s pension fund versus the Wilshire’s Trust Universe Comparison Service (TUCS), a widely accepted benchmark for institutional assets.