CalPERS May Be Done With Hedge Funds, But It’s Far From Finished With Fees

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There’s been a torrent of media coverage about how CalPERS, with its decision to kick hedge funds to the curb, has also distanced itself from high-fee investment managers.

But nearly $500 million of private equity fees say otherwise, writes the New York Times’ Josh Barro:

Here’s the thing: Calpers, America’s largest public employee pension system, with $300 billion in assets under management, isn’t getting away from investment gurus altogether.

The system’s $4 billion hedge fund program is small potatoes; its main exposure to high-fee gurus is through $31 billion in private equity funds, which just like hedge funds rely on the premise that highly paid fund managers can beat the market through special insight and talent.

Calpers paid $476 million in management fees on its private equity portfolio in the fiscal year ending June 2013, equal to 1.4 percent of private equity assets, about 20 times what it would have cost Calpers to invest a similar amount in stocks and bonds. And Calpers’s commitment to private equity remains strong, guru-driven fees and all.

Ted Eliopoulos, the interim chief investment officer at Calpers, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, made clear in a statement that the choice to exit hedge funds was specific to the asset class. He criticized hedge funds’ “complexity, cost and the lack of ability to scale at Calpers’s size.” The key word there is “scale”: Even at $4 billion, hedge funds made up just over 1 percent of the Calpers portfolio. That wasn’t enough to make a meaningful difference to the fund’s returns or diversification, and the system didn’t see good opportunities to scale up.

As of 2013, CalPERS invested 10.4 percent of its portfolio in private equity. That’s a big jump from its 6 percent PE allocation in 2006.

But, according to Josh Barro, CalPERS cut its target private equity allocation twice this year—the target allocation at the beginning of 2014 was 14 percent. Now, two downward revisions later, PE’s target allocation sits at 10 percent.


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