Institutional Investors Cite Regulatory Risk, Transparency as Obstacles to Infrastructure Investment

Roadwork

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently surveyed 71 pension funds on their interest in alternative investments.

[The full survey can be found here.]

The findings when it came to infrastructure investing were among the most interesting.

The survey found that the funds had increased their alternative investments across all categories between 2010 and 2013.

But when it comes to allocation, infrastructure still occupies the lowest rung on the totem poll.

The OECD sat down with institutional investors recently to ask why they might be hesitant to invest in infrastructure. From Investments and Pensions Europe:

At the recent OECD roundtable on long-term investment policy, institutional investors in attendance cited two main obstacles to infrastructure investment. First was the lack of a transparent and stable policy framework and regulatory risk was a top concern. Second was a lack of bankable investment opportunities.

Other important issues raised included clear and predictable accounting standards, long-term metrics for performance valuations and compensations, standardisation in project documentation, and transferability of loans and portability of guarantees. The expansion of financial instruments available for long-term investment (eg, bonds, equity, basic securitisation of loans), and the need for a clear risk allocation matrix to assign to the potential risk owner (government, investor or both) were also raised.

Ultimately, the primary concern for investors is investment performance in the context of specific objectives, such as paying pensions and annuities. Infrastructure can become an alternative asset class for private investors provided investors can access bankable projects and an acceptable risk/return profile is offered.

The study and roundtable were conducted as part of the OECD Long-term Investment Project.

Private Equity Eyes Longer Timelines For Largest Investors

binoculars

Some private equity firms are considering offering new investment structures that would allow their largest clients to invest over a longer period of time, according to a New York Times report.

The new structure would extend the timeline of some investments to over 10 years, which could appeal to institutional clients looking for longer-term, lower-risk investments in the private equity arena.

More details from the New York Times:

Joseph Baratta, the head of private equity at the Blackstone Group, the biggest alternative investment firm, said at a conference in Berlin on Tuesday that the firm was speaking with large investors about a new investment structure that would aim for lower returns over a longer period of time.

Mr. Baratta, whose remarks were reported by The Wall Street Journal, said the investments would be made outside of Blackstone’s traditional funds, which impose time limits on the investing cycle. Invoking Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, Mr. Baratta said he wanted to own companies for more than 10 years.

”I don’t know why Warren Buffett should be the only person who can have a 15-year, 14 percent sort of return horizon,” Mr. Baratta said, according to The Journal.

His remarks, at the SuperReturn International conference, were only the latest example of chatter about this sort of structure in private equity circles.

News reports last fall said that Blackstone and the Carlyle Group, the private equity giant based in Washington, were both considering making investments outside their existing funds. Such moves would let the firms buy companies they might otherwise pass on — big, established corporations that don’t need significant restructuring but could benefit from private ownership.

[…]

Blackstone, which has not yet deployed such a strategy, might gather a “coalition of the willing” investors to buy individual companies, Mr. Baratta said. This approach could be attractive to some of the world’s biggest investors, including sovereign wealth funds and big pension funds, which, though they want market-beating returns, also want to avoid taking too much risk.

Read the full NY Times report here.

 

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Ex-CalPERS Hedge Fund Honcho Joins Chatham

building

Chatham Asset Management has hired the former chief of CalPERS’ hedge fund strategy, Ed Robertiello.

Ed Robertiello left CalPERS after the pension fund decided to pull its money out of hedge funds.

More from Bloomberg:

Robertiello started Jan. 1 as a partner and director of strategic development, the $1.7 billion Chatham, New Jersey-based firm told clients in a letter today. Robertiello left Calpers in December, three months after it decided to divest the $4 billion it had invested in hedge funds.

Pension funds face challenges meeting their obligations to retirees as the Federal Reserve holds interest rates near zero, said Evan Ratner, Chatham’s head of research.

“Ed’s been in this position for Calpers, so we believe he will prove invaluable in understanding investor needs,” Ratner said in an interview.

[…]

“Institutional investors are going to continue to allocate to the industry,” Robertiello said in a phone interview. “We want to make sure Chatham’s prepared for it.”

Chatham’s largest hedge fund, the Chatham Asset High Yield Master Fund, invests in speculative-grade bonds and leveraged loans.

Before joining Calpers in 2012, Robertiello was an executive involved in alternative investments at Russell Investments, Credit Suisse Group AG, and the Blackstone Group LP, according to the letter. He began his finance career investing RJR Nabisco Inc.’s retirement and trust assets.

“We appreciate Ed’s contributions to the Calpers investment office and his work on behalf of our members, and wish him the best with Chatham,” Calpers chief investment officer Ted Eliopoulos said in an e-mail.

In September 2014, CalPERS made the decision to exit its $4 billion hedge fund portfolio.

 

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Research Firm: Institutional Investors Still Hungry for Hedge Funds

flying moneyResearch from eVestment indicates institutional investors are still hungry for hedge funds even after a year that saw low returns for the investment vehicles. The research estimates that investors will put at least $90 billion in hedge funds in 2015.

From Money News:

Wealthy investors are poised to put at least $90 billion into hedge funds next year, even after returns have largely been lackluster this year, research firm eVestment said.

Fresh demand from pension funds, endowments, and insurers looking for alternatives to traditional stock and bond holdings will fuel next year’s flows, the researchers wrote in a report.

“Will institutional investors maintain their investments and continue to allocate more to hedge funds in 2015 … The short answer is yes,” they wrote, adding “We expect asset flows into hedge funds of at least between $90 billion and $110 billion in 2015.” Hedge funds manage roughly $3 trillion in assets.

The appetite for hedge funds remains strong even after the $300 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest U.S. pension fund, said in September it was pulling out of hedge funds because they are too costly and complicated.

Hedge funds took in roughly $112 billion in new money this year even though returns have been paltry, with the average fund returning roughly 4 percent this year through November. As hedge funds posted low single digit returns, the stock market raced to a series of fresh highs and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 12.8 percent since January. Last year, investors added $62 billion in new money to hedge funds.

The research suggested that investments in stock-oriented hedge funds could slow down, but investments in multi-strategy hedge funds will likely rise in 2015.

 

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OECD: Infrastructure Investing Low Among Largest Pensions

Roadwork

The world’s largest pension funds have significantly increased their allocations to alternative investments over the last four years. But allocations to infrastructure haven’t followed that upward trend, according to an OECD report.

Reported by Pensions & Investments:

Infrastructure investing activity remains low among the largest pension funds and public pension reserve funds worldwide, despite increased allocations to other alternative investments, a report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed.

[…]

Average allocations to alternatives increased to 19.5% from 17.6% between 2010 and 2013 among the 10 largest pension funds surveyed, while infrastructure allocations were more stable. Of the 71 funds that responded to the OECD survey, unlisted equity and debt infrastructure investments totaled $80 billion, or 1% of total respondent assets, at the end of 2013, up slightly from $72.1 billion, or 0.9% of total respondent assets, at the end of 2012.

Mr. Paula and Raffaele Della Croce, lead manager on the OECD’s long-term investment project and co-author of the report, attributed the slow uptake to unstable regulatory frameworks and a lack of bankable projects.

“Pressure is on the policy side to provide the right conditions for investors to accept infrastructure,” Mr. Della Croce said in a telephone interview.

Although infrastructure investment activity remains low, plan executives are expressing interest in the asset category.

Large pension funds like the €20 billion ($24.5 billion) Etablissement de Retraite Additionnelle de la Fonction Publique, Paris, and $28 billion Afore Banamex, Mexico City, plan to establish new target allocations to infrastructure, according to the report.

Read the full OECD report here.

Kolivakis Weighs In On CalPERS’ PE Benchmark Review

building

It was revealed last week that CalPERS has plans to review its private equity benchmarks. The pension giant’s staff says the benchmark is too aggressive – in their words, the current system “creates unintended active risk for the program”.

Pension360 last week published the take of Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith on the situation. Here’s the analysis of pension investment analyst Leo Kolivakis, publisher of Pension Pulse, who takes a different stance.

____________________________________

By Leo Kolivakis [Originally published on Pension Pulse]

I was contacted in January 2013 by Réal Desrochers, their head of private equity who I know well, to discuss this issue. Réal wanted to hire me as an external consultant to review their benchmark relative to their peer group and industry best practices.

Unfortunately, I am not a registered investment advisor with the SEC which made it impossible for CalPERS to hire me. I did however provide my thoughts to Réal along with some perspectives on PE benchmarks and told him unequivocally that CalPERS current benchmark is very high, especially relative to its peers, making it almost impossible to beat without taking serious risks.

Almost two years later, we now find out that CalPERS is looking to change its private equity benchmark to better reflect the risks of the underlying portfolio. Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism, aka Susan Webber, came out swinging (again!) stating CalPERS is lowering its private equity benchmark to justify its crappy performance.

There are things I agree with but her lengthy and often vitriolic ramblings just annoy the hell out of me. She didn’t bother to mention how Réal Desrochers inherited a mess in private equity and still has to revamp that portfolio.

More importantly, she never invested a dime in private equity and quite frankly is far from being an authority on PE benchmarks. Moreover, she is completely biased against CalPERS and allows this to cloud her objectivity. Also, her dispersion argument is flimsy at best.

Let me be fully transparent and state that neither Réal Desrochers nor CalPERS ever paid me a dime for my blog even though I asked them to contribute. I am actually quite disappointed with Réal who seems to only contact me when it suits his needs but I am still able to maintain my objectivity.

I remember having a conversation with Leo de Bever, CEO at AIMCo, on this topic a while ago. We discussed the opportunity cost of investing in private markets is investing in public markets. So the correct benchmark should reflect this, along with a premium for illiquidity risk and leverage. Leo even told me “while you will underperform over any given year, you should outperform over the long-run.”

I agreed with his views and yet AIMCo uses a simple benchmark of MSCI All Country World Net Total Return Index as their private equity benchmark (page 33 of AIMCo’s Annual Report). When I confronted Leo about this, he shrugged it off saying “over the long-run it works out fine.” Grant Marsden, AIMCo’s former head of risk who is now head of risk at ADIA, had other thoughts but it shows you that even smart people don’t always get private market benchmarks right.

And AIMCo is one of the better ones. At least they publish all their private market benchmarks and I can tell you the benchmarks they use for their inflation-sensitive investments are better than what most of their peers use.

Now, my biggest beef with CalPERS changing their private equity benchmark is timing. If we are about to head into a period of low returns for public equities, then you should have some premium over public market investments. The exact level of that premium is left open for debate and I don’t rely on academic studies for setting it. But there needs to be some illiquidity premium attached to private equity, real estate and other private market investments.

Finally, I note the Caisse’s private equity also underperformed its benchmark in 2013 but handily outperformed it over the last four years. In its 2013 Annual Report, the Caisse states the private equity portfolio underperformed last year because “50% of its benchmark is based on an equity index that recorded strong gains in 2013″ (page 39) but it fails to provide what exactly this benchmark is on page 42.

Also, in my comment going over PSP’s FY 2014 results, I noted the following:

Over last four fiscal years, the bulk of the value added that PSP generated over its (benchmark) Policy Portfolio has come from two asset classes: private equity and real estate. The former gained 16.9% vs 13.7% benchmark return while the latter gained 12.6% vs 5.9% benchmark over the last four fiscal years. That last point is critically important because it explains the excess return over the Policy Portfolio from active management on page 16 during the last ten and four fiscal years (click on image).

But you might ask what are the benchmarks for these Private Market asset classes? The answer is provided on page 18 (click on image).

What troubles me is that it has been over six years since I wrote my comment on alternative investments and bogus benchmarks, exposing their ridiculously low benchmark for real estate (CPI + 500 basis points). André Collin, PSP’s former head of real estate, implemented this silly benchmark, took all sorts of risk in opportunistic real estate, made millions in compensation and then joined Lone Star, a private real estate fund that he invested billions with while at the Caisse and PSP and is now the president of that fund.
And yet the Auditor General of Canada turned a blind eye to all this shady activity and worse still, PSP’s board of directors has failed to fix the benchmarks in all Private Market asset classes to reflect the real risks of their underlying portfolio.

All this to say that private equity, real estate, infrastructure and timberland benchmarks are all over the map at the biggest best known pension funds across the world. There are specific reasons for this but it’s incredibly annoying and frustrating for supervisors and stakeholders trying to make sense of which is the appropriate benchmark to use for private market investments, one that truly reflects the risks of the underlying investments (you will get all sorts of “expert opinions” on this subject).

 

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New Jersey Pension Encounters Difficulty Exiting Investment With Firm At Which Mary Pat Christie Holds Top Job

No Exit

It’s been nearly four years since New Jersey’s pension system terminated an investment with Angelo, Gordon & Co, an investment firm where Mary Pat Christie, wife of Gov. Chris Christie, is managing director.

But as the International Business Times reports, the pension system is still paying fees to the firm because certain portions of the investment are particularly illiquid – the pension system has yet to be able to exit them fully.

Some say the situation is a troubling conflict of interest. Others say it is emblematic of one of the criticisms of alternative investments: pension funds can’t exit whenever they like.

From the International Business Times:

When the New Jersey pension system terminated a $150 million investment in a fund called Angelo, Gordon & Co. in 2011, that did not close the books on the deal. In the three years since state officials ordered the withdrawal of that state money, New Jersey taxpayers have forked over hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to the firm. As those fees kept flowing, Angelo Gordon made a prominent hire: Mary Pat Christie, wife of Gov. Chris Christie, who joined the company in 2012 as a managing director and now earns $475,000 annually, according to the governor’s most recent tax return.

The disclosure that New Jersey taxpayers have been paying substantial fees to a firm that employs the governor’s spouse — years after state officials said the investment was terminated — emerged in documents released by the Christie administration to International Business Times through a public records request.

[…]

New Jersey’s original $150 million investment in Angelo Gordon was initiated in 2006, under Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat. By October 2011, state records show, the investment — which was in a multi-strategy hedge fund called AG Garden Partners — had generated just a 5.5 percent return in six years. That month, New Jersey investment officials sent a letter telling the firm to “withdraw, as of December 31, 2011, one hundred percent of the [state’s] capital account.” Yet the state subsequently paid Angelo Gordon management fees of more than $255,000 in 2012, more than $132,000 in 2013 and more than $82,000 for the first three quarters of 2014.

[New Jersey Treasury Department] Spokesman Santarelli told IBTimes that while “New Jersey redeemed its interest in the AG fund and ended its investment [in 2011] we still have a remaining market value of $6.6 million invested related to illiquid investments, which have been winding down slowly over the last few years.”

New Jersey State Investment Council chairman Thomas Byrne gave his reaction to the IB Times:

“This is standard; we are not doing something different here that is outside the norms of the financial industry and the world of private partnerships,” he said.

“We are paying fees on whatever money is left in there, so it could be an asset that could be increasing in value,” Byrne said. “So why should the manager work for free if they are hamstrung in the short term but they have made an investment that makes sense? A contract is a contract and presumably both sides are working in good faith to get out of it, and a deal is a deal.”

Read the entire IB Times report here.

 

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Private Equity Likely to Target 401(k)s As Next Big Capital Source

401k jar

According to a survey released Monday, nearly 90 percent of institutional investors believe that defined-contribution (DC) plans are firmly in the cross-hairs of private equity firms.

Reported by Investments and Pensions Europe:

Coller Capital’s latest quarterly Global Private Equity Barometer suggests the world’s limited partner (LP) community is almost unanimous in its expectation that defined contribution (DC) pension schemes will become a source of private equity capital over the next five years.

The findings, based on the private equity secondaries specialist’s survey of 114 investors worldwide, also show growing enthusiasm for private equity in general, and buy-and-build and private credit in particular – despite some concern over what the exit environment for private assets might look like in 3-5 years’ time.

Almost nine out of 10 investors see DC providing private equity capital within five years, with 27% of European LPs believing DC schemes will provide “significant” capital to the asset class.

Stephen Ziff, a partner at Coller Capital, said: “The backdrop to the finding about DC assets going into private equity is one of more capital in general moving into alternatives, and private equity in particular.

“But in addition there has been a shift in the pensions landscape over the past several years, and GPs are certainly looking for new sources of capital. The industry is slowly starting to get to grips with the challenges, to varying degrees – particularly features of DC investments like liquidity and daily pricing.”

The survey interviewed a representative sample of institutional investors, including pension funds and endowments, based across the globe.

 

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Survey: 81 Percent of Pension Funds Looking to Bring More Investment Management In-House

wall street

CalSTRS recently announced its plans to eventually manage 60 percent of its assets internally. According to a recent survey, a majority of pension funds are beginning to think the same way.

A survey by State Street released this week found that 81 percent of pension funds are planning to bring more investment management duties in-house in the near future.

From BenefitsPro:

81 percent of funds are exploring bringing more management responsibilities in-house over the next three years.

Cost concerns are driving the trend, as 29 percent of funds said it is becoming more difficult to justify the fees paid to outside managers.

“Pension funds’ desire to deliver strong investment returns to their participants coupled with improved oversight and governance is leading to a need for more in-house accountability for asset and risk management,” said Martin Sullivan, head of asset owner sector solutions for North America.

The State Street data doesn’t suggest that outside management will become obsolete, but rather that pension funds are becoming more judicious about how they select and manage outside relationships.

The largest funds have the capacity to handle multi-asset management in-house, but they are in the minority, Sullivan noted.

“The majority of pension funds will need to make a choice about where to be a specialist and when a sub-contractor is needed,” he said.

The survey examined responses from 134 defined benefit and defined contribution funds around the globe.

The survey also found funds are willing to take on more risk:

While pensions funds re-examine their relationships with outside managers, 77 percent are also reporting a need to increase their risk appetite to boost lackluster returns.

That means a greater push into alternatives, as equities and fixed-income “may look pricey.”

“Pension funds are finding that a small allocation to alternatives is not sufficient to generate the required growth. This is forcing many of them to place bigger bets on alternatives,” according to the report.

The full report, called “Pension Funds DIY: A Hands-On Future for Asset Owners,” can be found here.

Lowenstein: Do Pension Fund Make Investing Too Complex?

maze

Former New York Times financial writer Roger Lowenstein wonders in his new Fortune column whether pension investments have become too complex.

Lowenstein’s thesis:

Pricey consultants have convinced many pension funds to pile into private equity, real estate and hedge funds, which don’t necessarily promise higher returns or long-term investing.

[…]

[Pension funds] have assembled portfolios that are way too complex, way too dependent on supposedly sophisticated (and high fee) investment vehicles. They have chased what is fashionable, they have overly diversified, and they have abandoned what should be their true calling: patient long-term investing in American corporations.

[…]

It’s true that the stock market doesn’t always go up. But a long-term investor shouldn’t be wary of volatility. Over the long term, American stocks do go up. And state pension systems should be the ultimate long-term investors; their horizon is effectively forever.

Lower volatility helps fund managers; they don’t like having to explain what happened in a bad year. But it is not good for their constituents. The Iowa system has trailed the Wilshire stock index over 10 years—also over five years, three years, and one year. Over time, that translates to higher expenses for employees or for Iowa taxpayers. And Iowa is typical of public funds generally.

[…]

Many hedge funds trumpet their ability to dampen volatility. Pension funds should not be in them. From 2009 to 2013, a weighted index of hedge funds earned 8% a year, according to Mark Williams of Boston University. The return on the S&P 500 was more than twice as much, and a blended 60/40 S&P and bond fund earned 14%. Granted, a small minority of hedge funds consistently beat the index. But most public pensions will not be in such superlative funds.

Lowenstein on private equity:

Private equity remains the rage. However, private equity is hugely problematic. Those confidential fees are often excessive—with firms exacting multiple layers of fees on the same investment.

Moreover, there is no reliable gauge of returns. Private equity firms report “internal rates of return.” These do not take into account money that investors commit and yet is not invested. “The returns are misleading,” says Frederick Rowe, vice chairman of the Employee Retirement System of Texas. “The professionals I talk to consider the use of IRRs deceptive. What they want to know is, ‘How much did I commit and how much did I get back?’”

Since no public market for private equity stakes exists, annual performance is simply an estimate. Not surprisingly, estimates are not as volatile as stock market prices. But the underlying assets are equivalent. A cable system or a supermarket chain does not become more volatile by virtue of its form of ownership.

The fact that reported private equity results are less volatile pleases fund managers. But the juice in private equity comes from its enormous leverage. Pension managers would be more honest if they simply borrowed money and bet on the S&P—and they would avoid the fees. And if high leverage is inappropriate for a public fund, it is no less inappropriate just because KKR is doing it.

Lowenstein ends the column with a call for pension funds to renew their focus on “long-term goals”:

With their close ties to Wall Street, pension managers tend to be steeped in the arcane culture of the market. The web site for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas refers to its “headlight system” of “portfolio alerts” and the outlook for the U.S. Federal Reserve and China.

Managers who think in such episodic terms tend to be traders, not investors. This subverts the long-term goals of retirees.

The focus on the short and medium term squanders what a pension fund’s true advantage is. You may not have thought that public funds had an advantage, but they wield more than $3 trillion and have the freedom to invest for the very long term.

Better than chase the latest “alternative,” pensions could become meaningful stewards of corporate governance—active monitors of America’s public companies. A few fund managers, including Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller, who oversees five big funds, are moving in this direction, seeking board roles for their funds. More should do so, but that will require an ongoing commitment. It will require, in other words, that pension funds stop acting like turnstile traders and fad followers, and that they start behaving like investors.

Read the entire column here.

 

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