New York Retirement System Is Prepared To Increase Its Allocation to Hedge Funds, Alternatives

Manhattan, New York

CalPERS is running away from hedge funds, but, as Pension360 has covered in the past, most pension funds aren’t following. In fact, some are running in the opposite direction.

Case in point: the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). The fund hasn’t made any decisions yet, but it is open to the possibility of expanding its allocation in hedge funds and other complex investments. From Public Sector Inc:

A bill passed by the New York State Senate and Assembly at the end of their session in June would expand, to 30 percent from 25 percent, the share of pension fund investments that can be allocated in “baskets” of assets not otherwise specifically permitted by law. These include hedge funds and private equity funds, which involve more complex financial risks and are more difficult to value and monitor than traditional stocks and bonds. The change has been supported in the past by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, NYSLRS’ sole trustee, although the lobbying effort for the bill this year appears to have been spearheaded by the New York City pension funds.

The bigger-basket pension bill hasn’t yet been sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature. If his approval or veto message contains so much as a single sentence’s worth of substantive explanation, it will exceed the sum total of all public comment devoted to the subject by state lawmakers this year. (The issue has also gone virtually unnoticed by State Capitol news media.)

In fiscal 2007, when DiNapoli became comptroller, NYSLRS paid out $162 million of investment management fees, including $27 million for alternative investments. By fiscal 2013, the latest year for which data are available, investment fees had risen to $454 million, including $163 million in the “absolute return” category alone, which includes hedge funds.

The NYSLRS has ramped up its allocation towards alternative investments in recent years. It the fund’s official investment policy is any indication, it is planning on devoting an even higher percentage of its assets towards such investments. From Public Sector Inc:

Total NYSLRS assets in the alternative category came to 11.8 percent last year, including 3.2 percent invested in absolute return strategies. However, according to its annual report, the fund’s long-term goal is to increase its alternative allocation to 21 percent, including 10 percent in private equity and 4 percent in absolute return assets including hedge funds, plus 4 percent in the newer category of “opportunistic” investments and 3 percent in “real assets” including commodities, infrastructure and timberland meant to create “inflation hedging strategies,” the annual report said.

The pension funds also announced recently a partnership with Goldman Sachs. Sachs will receive $2 billion to manage.

Auditors Asking Questions on Record-Setting Bonuses Given to Wisconsin Investment Board


Everyone appreciates a pat on the back for a job well done.

But auditors are raising concerns about whether the Wisconsin State Investment Board, the entity that handles investments for the state’s pension funds, went a little overboard by handing out $13.3 million worth of bonuses in 2013—the most ever handed out by the Board.

The Legislative Audit Bureau, the agency set up by Wisconsin to evaluate and audit other state agencies, is asking the Investment Board to review its compensation policy in light of the bonuses.

Bonuses included, the overall compensation the Board paid employees was 14 percent higher than the median among its peers, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

More from TC-PP:

Michael Williams, executive director of the Wisconsin Investment Board, says in a written response to the audit that “experience shows that paying for performance has been a success.”

The bonuses are based on investment performance. The board ended 2013 beating one-, three- and five-year benchmarks. 

The bolded is important: the bonuses are performance based, and the Board raked in strong returns in 2013.

But the Board’s own data may raise doubts that the performance was strong enough to justify the amount of the bonuses.

Courtesy of Wisconsin State Investment Board
Courtesy of Wisconsin State Investment Board

(The Board operates two pension funds—the Core Fund and the Variable Fund. The Core Fund invests entirely in equities, while the Variable fund follows a more traditional asset allocation.)

As of April 30, the both funds’ calendar YTD returns have come in below their respective benchmarks.

But the bonuses in question were handed out based on 2013 performance. In fact, both funds were beating their benchmarks for one-year, five-year and 10-year returns as of March 31.

Still, those returns still fall short of what the Russell 3000 returned over the same periods.

The Russell 3000 index is considered a benchmark for the entire U.S. stock market, as the index encompasses the 3000 largest U.S.-traded stocks.

So, the Investment Board beat their benchmarks but not the broader index. Does that performance merit a big bonus?

That’s the $13.3 million dollar question.

Photo by Miran Rijavec aka Stan Dalone via Flickr CC License

Divesting From Gun Manufacturers Is Still On The Minds of Some Large Pension Funds


The politics of guns isn’t a topic too often broached at shareholder meetings.

But that’s exactly the topic that was the center of attention at Alliant Techsystems’ annual shareholder meeting on July 30, which included a shareholder resolution asking the Virginia-based defense and sporting goods company to comply with some of the Sandy Hook Principles—an initiative requesting that firearms manufacturers comply by certain guidelines, for example, developing better safety technology.

The message of the Sandy Hook Principles: comply or be sold.

And who filed that shareholder resolution? The Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds as well as the New York State Common Retirement Fund.

According to a press release, the resolution asked for the following from Alliant Techsystems:

* Promoting restrictions on firearms and ammunition sales, transfers and possession to keep guns out of the hands of children, persons with mental illness or mental health challenges, criminals, domestic or international terrorists and anyone else prohibited from possessing them under federal law;

* Supporting the establishment of a federal universal background check system for every sale or transfer of guns or ammunition conducted by the company;

* Reevaluating policies regarding the sale, production, design or conversion of military style assault weapons for use by civilians, including the distribution of any materials/information that may be used to assist in such conversions;

* Taking steps to promote the conducting of background checks for every sale or transfer of guns or ammunition by business clients, including gun show operators or gun dealers.

* Supporting a federal gun trafficking statute to ensure stronger punishment for individuals engaging in the trade of selling firearms to anyone prohibited from possessing them under federal law; and

* Promoting gun safety education at the point of sale and in the communities in which the company conducts business operations.

It’s only the latest in a string of “social Investment” decisions that imply institutional investors are considering divesting from gun manufacturers.

In February, a professor convinced his institution, Occidental College, to pass a resolution banning firearm investments by the school. It was the first college in the United States to do so.

A Pennsylvania volunteer group called Delco United is attempting to convince various municipalities to divest from guns, and in at least one case it worked: after a visit from Delco, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs subsequently sold its holdings in Sturm, Ruger & Co.

Last year, CalPERS voted to sell about $5 million worth of securities related to gun manufacturers. CalSTRS, and others, followed suit. From Governing:

The $154-billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the country’s second largest government retirement plan, took a similar action.

CalSTRS and CalPERS took up the divestment issue at the request of state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a member of both boards. Lockyer called the vote “largely symbolic” but stressed that it’s an important way to spur incremental change.

“We’re limited by the constraints of our responsibility and the rules that CalPERS has,” said Lockyer. “There’s only one way that we speak and that’s with money.

Funds in Chicago, New York state, New York City, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have publicly said they are exploring such divestments.

The Philadelphia Board of Pensions threatened to divest its $15.3 million share in various gun manufacturers if they didn’t sign on to the Sandy Hook Principles.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered the city’s funds to divest from firearms manufacturers, but only one fund complied.

But when it comes to social investing, is the probability of making a change worth the chance of “fiscal peril” posed by potentially higher administrative costs and lower returns associated with divesting? One prominent retirement researcher thinks not. From Governing:

Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, is an outspoken critic of social investing. After years of social investment decisions in regard to South Africa, the Sudan and other countries and causes, Munnell sees fiscal peril in forcing portfolio managers to add non-monetary considerations to investment decisions. “Introducing another dimension creates a risk that portfolio managers will take their eyes off the prize of maximum returns and undermine investment performance.”

As she sees it, the people making the social investment decisions are not the people who will bear the burden if anything goes wrong. “If divestiture produces losses either through higher administrative costs or lower returns,” she says, “tomorrow’s taxpayers will have to ante up or future retirees will receive lower benefits.”

Private pension plans, which are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, are prohibited from social investing. Munnell believes public plans should follow suit. Not that there isn’t room for other groups to do social investing. “If rich people want to adjust their own portfolios, that is perfectly reasonable,” she says. “But for public plans to do it is not.”

Social investment advocates argue they have a moral responsibility to society. As Chicago Alderman Will Burns put it earlier this year, “The damage caused by these weapons is far greater than any return on investment.”

It’s a strong argument, and one that Munnell says makes her position “not a pleasant one.” When the genocides in Darfur were occurring and pension plans were talking of disinvesting, Munnell disagreed vocally with that policy. “I sounded pro-genocide. Now I sound anti-gun control. I’m neither. I just don’t think social investing is effective. It can harm the performance of public plans.”

Connecticut Treasurer Denise Nappier has a different view.

“These companies will enhance their long-term shareholder value if they are seen as a reasonable public voice in the debate over the proper response to the Newtown tragedy”, said the Treasurer in a statement to Institutional Investor. “At the same time, they will suffer if the public perceives them as unwilling to consider reasonable voluntary measures, such as the Sandy Hook principles.”

Photo by Mitch Barrie via Flickr CC License

Video: The Evolution of Allocating to Hedge Funds


Bloomberg TV sat down with Agecroft Partners founder Don Steinbrugge to talk about pension fund investments in hedge funds and what it means for both sides.

Other topics touched: hedge funds facing the reality of having to settle for less fees and more transparency to play ball with pension funds, and paying pension fund staff market rates. Watch the video here:

Pension360 has also covered the recent counter-evolution of hedge fund allocation, a trend in which many pension funds across the country are pulling back their hedge fund investments.

CalPERS, for instance, plans to pull back 40 percent of their hedge fund investments in the near future.


Photo by Simon Cunningham via Flickr CC License

Montana Funds Return 17 percent for Fiscal Year


The Montana Board of Investments, the entity that manages investments for the state’s pension funds, released its annual return data yesterday. As a whole, the Board pulled in a return of just over 17 percent for fiscal year 2013-14. From the Missoulian:

State investments showed a return of 17.17 percent on all pension investments in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The state Board of Investments’ return for the year was approaching the historic high return for the board, which was 21.8 percent in 2011. The return last year was 13 percent.

These percentages are net returns, calculated after all investment expenses are paid.

Montana has been in the top 25 percent of its peers for the past three years.

Since the Board of Investments’ inception in 1972, its overall earnings are 7.93 percent, exceeding the 7.75 percent needed to fund the pension systems.

The investments have bounced back since state pension funds lost a fourth of their money during the national recession in 2008 and 2009.

“The taxpayers of Montana re the winners with today’s announcement,” Gov. Steve Bullock said. “At a time when other states are forced to raise taxes to fix their pension problems, Montana has fixed our public pensions without increasing taxes.”

Bullock said the state is continuing to improve its financial picture through prudent investments of cash holdings and investments.

Over the same period, the S&P 500 returned approximately 21 percent.


Photo: “Winnett MT Rims South of Town” by J.B. Chandler – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons

Ontario Teachers’ Fund Sets Sight On Airport As It Looks To Increase Infrastructure Holdings


The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is looking to expand its infrastructure holdings by up to $6 billion, or 33 percent, and the fund’s first move will likely be to buy an airport. From Reuters:

Canada’s Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is seeking to buy the rest of Britain’s Bristol Airport in a deal worth up to 250 million pounds ($424.6 million), a source closely monitoring the situation said on Monday.

The pension fund, which already owns 49 percent of the regional airport, has the right of first offer for the 50 percent owned by Australian asset manager Macquarie Group.

Macquarie, the world’s largest infrastructure asset manager, was sounding out buyers for its holding, British newspaper The Sunday Times reported.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is eyeing the stake as it seeks to expand its infrastructure holdings from $12 billion to around $18 billion. The deal could take place this year, the source said.

“Given the right of first offer, Ontario Teachers is likely to purchase the stake, but this will of course be based on an appropriate valuation,” the source said, adding that discussions have not commenced but are expected to start “very soon”.

European airport deals typically attract a valuation of 15-17 times core earnings (EBITDA).

The Teachers’ Plan originally invested in the airport in 2002, and it increased its stake in to 49 percent in 2009.

Bristol Airport is the ninth-busiest airport in Britain.

CalPERS To Pull Back 40% of Hedge Fund Investments


There is a growing desire by funds around the country to avoid large investment fees, and that trend has led many funds to reduce their investments in hedge funds. Now, CalPERS has hopped on that train. From MarketWatch:

[CalPERS’] hedge-fund investment is expected to drop this year by 40%, to $3 billion, amid a review of that part of the portfolio, said a person familiar with the changes. A spokesman declined to comment on the size of the reduction but said the fund is taking more of a “back-to-basics approach” with its holdings.

CalPERS’ decision comes on the heels of a similar move by the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions fund. The difference is, the LA fund separated itself from hedge funds altogether. From MarketWatch:

The officials overseeing pensions for Los Angeles’s fire and police employees decided last year to get out of hedge funds altogether after an investment of $500 million produced a return of less than 2% over seven years, according to Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions General Manager Ray Ciranna. The hedge-fund investment was just 4% of the pension’s total portfolio and yet $15 million a year in fees went to hedge-fund managers, 17% of all fees paid by the fund.

The HFRI Fund Weighted Composite Index, which measured hedge fund performance, indicated hedge funds returned 3.2 percent in the first six months of 2013, compared to a 7.1 return for the S&P 500 index.