Chart: Which Type of Private Equity Investors Are Most Resistant to Letting An Underperforming Fund Change It’s Terms?

limited partners, private equity

Consider this scenario: A limited partner invests money in a private equity fund under a certain set of terms and conditions. But eventually, it becomes clear the fund isn’t achieving the preferred performance and the general partner (PE firm) approaches the LP to re-set the terms of the deal.

A recent survey asked institutional investors whether they would comply with the GP’s request.

Turns out, pension funds would be more resistant to the changing of terms that any other type of institutional investor – over 60 percent said they would refuse to re-set terms.

 

Chart credit: Coller Capital

General Partners Gain Upper Hand Over Pension Funds As Raising Capital Becomes Easier

balancePensions & Investments released an interesting report yesterday outlining the balance of power in the private equity world between general partners and pension funds.

In the last few years, the balance of power has shifted dramatically towards GP’s, according to the report.

From Pensions & Investments:

Until the 2008 financial crisis, general partners pretty much set the rules, leaving most limited partners little say on terms, including on fees and expenses, when they committed to funds. Then fundraising got harder, and even the most popular private equity managers had to accept investors’ demands for lower fees and expenses and a greater degree of transparency.

Now, the highest-returning general partners are regaining the upper hand.

“Certainly, the pendulum has swung more toward the GP compared to 2009,” said Kevin Campbell, managing director and portfolio manager in the private markets group at fund-of-funds manager DuPont Capital Management, Wilmington, Del. The firm was spun out from the pension management division of DuPont’s pension plan in 1993.

[…]

Said DuPont’s Mr. Campbell: “I’ve seen the pendulum of power change positions several different times during the last 15 years,” where private equity fund terms are determined by the GP and sometimes they are more influenced by the LP.

Strong-performing managers that retain the same team and the same investment strategy used when they earned their strong returns have the most influence over fund terms, Mr. Campbell said. These managers also are raising a fund that is similar in size to their last fund and they have a “good investor base,” meaning investors who routinely commit to their funds, he said.

[…]

Some are increasing their negotiating clout by getting large capital commitments from sovereign wealth funds before the first close, enabling them to give other interested institutional investors a take-it-or-leave-it deal, said Stephen L. Nesbitt, chief executive officer of Marina del Rey, Calif.-based alternative investment consulting firm Cliffwater LLC.

Part of the reason GPs have power over LPs has to do with fundraising. GPs are having an easy time raising capital, which means they don’t have any incentive to negotiate terms with LPs. From P&I:

It’s easier to raise capital now; funds are raised more quickly and general partners have more influence on terms, he added.

Indeed, some private equity funds are closing very quickly, with access to much more capital than they need. Instead of holding several fund closings — giving general partners the ability to invest the capital commitments before the final close — a number of firms are having “one-and-done” closings. Because there are asset owners willing to invest on those terms, the GPs have little reason to give in to limited partners demanding changes to fund terms.

For example, Veritas Fund Management in August held a first and final close at $1.875 billion for its latest middle-market private equity fund, after just three months of fundraising. And private equity real estate manager Iron Point Partners LLC in November closed the Iron Point Real Estate Partners III LP at $750 million, well above its $450 million target.

And KPS Capital Partners LP held a first and final closing last year of its $3.5 billion KPS Special Situations Fund IV, above its $3 billion target. It was KPS’ third oversubscribed institutional private equity fund, according to a statement from the firm at the time.

Read the full report here.

Video: Pension Funds Looking to Take on More Risk

In the above interview, Ian Hamilton, head of asset owners at State Street, talks about his research suggesting pension funds are looking to take on more risk to help close funding gaps.

Hamilton also touches on collaboration between pension funds and government on infrastructure projects.

Fiduciary Capitalism, Long-Term Thinking and the Future of Finance

city skyline

John Rogers, CFA, penned a thoughtful article in a recent issue of the Financial Analysts Journal regarding the future of finance – and how pension funds and other institutional investors could usher in a new era of capitalism.

From the article, titled “A New Era of Fiduciary Capitalism? Let’s Hope So”:

From my perspective, a new era of capitalism is emerging out of the fog. What I define as fiduciary capitalism is gathering strength and needs to become the future of finance. An era of fiduciary capitalism would be one in which long-term-oriented institutional investors shape behavior in the financial markets and the broader economy. In fiduciary capitalism, the dominant players in capital formation are institutional asset owners; these investors are legally bound to a duty of care and loyalty and must place the needs of their beneficiaries above all other considerations. The main players in this group are pension funds, endowments, foundations, and sovereign wealth funds.

Fiduciary capitalism has several attractive traits. It encourages long-term thinking. As “universal owners,” fiduciaries foster a deeper engagement with companies’ management teams and public policymakers on governance and strategy. In textbook terms, they seek to minimize negative externalities and reward positive ones. Because reducing costs is easier than generating alpha, we can expect continued pressure on financial intermediaries to reduce costs. To be sure, there are considerable gaps to bridge between today’s landscape and fiduciary capitalism. Transparency and disclosure, governance of fiduciaries, agency issues, and accountability are all areas that need more work.

On barrier in the way of fiduciary capitalism: lack of transparency. From the article:

Too many institutional investors are secretive and do not disclose enough about their activities. Their beneficial owners (including voters, in the case of sovereign funds) need more information to make reasonable judgments about their operations. Similarly, far more transparency is needed in the true costs of running these pools of assets. Investment management fees and other expenses often go unreported. Too much time and energy is spent comparing returns with market benchmarks, and not enough is spent defining and comparing the organizations’ performances against their liabilities—or against adequacy ratios.

Pension governance itself needs to be improved. As Ranji Nagaswami, former chief investment adviser to New York City’s $140 billion employee pension funds, has observed, public pension trustees are often ill equipped to govern platforms that are effectively complex asset management organizations. Compensation remains a complicated issue. In the public sector, paying for great pension staffers ought to be at least as important as a winning record on the playing field, yet in 27 of the 50 US states, the highest-paid public employee is the head coach of a college football team.

Rogers concludes:

The future of finance needs to be less about leverage, financial engineering, and stratospheric bonuses and more about efficiently and cleanly connecting capital with ideas, long-term investing for the good of society, and delivering on promises to future generations. In the public policy arena, governments that promote long-term savings, reduce taxes on long-term ownership, and require transparency and good fiduciary governance can help hasten this welcome change in our financial markets.

The era of finance capitalism wasn’t all bad, and an era of fiduciary capitalism wouldn’t be all good. In a time when leadership in finance is desperately lacking, fiduciaries have the potential to reconnect financial services with the society they serve. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Read the entire article, which is free to view, here.

The Case For Long-Termism in Pension Investments

balance

Pension funds, more so than other investors, operate on a particularly long time horizon.

But that doesn’t mean funds can’t succumb to short-term thinking.

Keith Ambachtsheer, Director Emeritus of the International Centre for Pension Management at the University of Toronto, makes the case for more long-term thinking at pension funds in a recent paper published in the Rotman International Journal of Pension Management.

He lays the groundwork of short-term thinking at pension funds by presenting this statistic:

My 2011 survey of 37 major pension funds found that only 8 (22%) based performance-related compensation on measures over four years or more.

In other words, pension funds aren’t rewarding long-term thinking. But how can that be changed? From the paper:

A good start is to insist that the representatives of asset owners become true fiduciaries, legally required to act in the sole best interest of the people (e.g., shareholders, pension beneficiaries) to whom they owe a fiduciary duty….the resulting message for the governing boards of pension and other long-horizon investment organizations (e.g., endowments) is that they must stretch out the time horizon in which they frame their duties, as well as recognizing the interconnected impact of their decisions on multiple constituents to whom they owe loyalty (e.g., not just current pension beneficiaries but also future ones).

Increasingly, fiduciary behavior and decisions will be judged not by a cookie-cutter off-the-shelf “prudent person” standard by a much broader “reasonable expectations” standard.

A logical implication of these developments is that the individual and collective actions of the world’s leading pension funds are our best hope to transform investing into more functional, wealth-creating processes.

It will take work, but a shift to long-termism will be worth it, according to the paper:

Institutional investors around the globe, led by the pension fund sector, are well placed to play a “lead wagon” fiduciary role as we set out to address these challenges. Indeed, the emerging view is that pension sector leaders have a legal obligation to look beyond tomorrow, and to focus the capital at their disposal on the long term.

Will the effort be worth it? Logic and history tell us that the answer is “yes.” Qualitatively, long-termism naturally fosters good citizenship; quantitatively, a 2011 study that calculates the combined impact of plugging the upstream and downstream “leakages” in conventional investment decision making with a short-term focus found that the resulting shift to long-termism could be worth as much as 150 basis points (1.5%) per annum in increased investment returns (Ambachtsheer, Fuller, and Hindocha 2013).

Read the entire paper, titled The Case for Long-Termism, here [subscription required].

Some Private Equity Firms Want More Opacity In Dealings With Pension Funds

two silhouetted men shaking hands in front of an American flag

Private equity firms are growing uncomfortable with the amount of information disclosed by pension funds about their private equity investments.

PE firms are cautioning their peers to make sure non-disclosure agreements are in place to prevent the public release of information that firms don’t want to be made public.

Stephen Hoey, chief financial and compliance officer at KPS Capital Partners, said this, according to COO Connect:

“We had correspondence with a municipal pension fund relating to the Limited Partner’s inquiry regarding the SEC’s findings from our presence exam. We objected to our correspondence with the LP of matters not relating to investment performance including notes taken by the LP representatives being submitted to reporters under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It is our communications with LPs other than discussions about performance metrics that we object to being in the public domain.”

Pamela Hendrickson, chief operating officer at The Riverside Company, said PE firms should know exactly what pension funds are allowed disclose to journalists. From COO Connect:

“GPs should make sure their LP agreements and side letters are clear about what can be disclosed under a Freedom of information request. GPs must comply with any non-disclosure agreements they have with their portfolio companies and information provided under the Freedom of Information Act should be restricted to ensure that the GPs remain in compliance,” said Hendrickson.

It’s already very difficult for journalists to obtain details and data regarding the private equity investments made by pension funds.

But PE firms are worried that the SEC will crack down on fees and conflicts of interest:

The SEC has recently been questioning private equity managers about their deals and fees dating all the way back to 2007. There is speculation the US regulator could clamp down on private equity fees following its announcement back in 2013 that it would be reviewing the fees and expenses’ policies at hedge funds amid concerns that travel and entertainment costs, which should be borne by the 2% management fee, were in fact being charged to end investors.

“The SEC is taking a strong interest in fees, and this has become apparent in regulatory audits as they are heavily scrutinising the fees and expenses that we charge. Following the Bowden speech, we received a material number of calls from our Limited Partners whereby we explained our fee structure and how costs were expensed accordingly. We also pointed out that our allocation of expenses was in conformity with the LP agreements, which is the contract between the General Partner and a fund’s limited partners,” said Hoey.

COO Connect, a publication catering to investment managers, encourages PE firms to use non-disclosure agreements to prevent the public release of any information the firms want to remain confidential.

 

Photo by Truthout.org via Flickr CC License

Is Now the Time For Pension Funds To Push Back On Fees?

Balancing The Account

CalPERS cut ties with hedge funds because, among other reasons, the fees associated with those investments.

Some money managers and pension fund staff are saying that now is the perfect time for other pension funds to speak up about their aversion to fee-heavy investments. The managers told Reuters:

“Pension funds and everyone else would be remiss not to push on fees now,” said Brad Balter, Managing Partner of Balter Capital Management, which invests in hedge funds and is now offering its own liquid alternatives fund that mimic hedge fund performance with a lower fee structure.

[…]

Joelle Mevi, who has long been arguing for lower fees, first as chief investment officer at New Mexico’s pension fund and now as executive director and CIO at the City of Fort Worth’s pension plan, agreed that Calpers’ move could be a wakeup call.

“Top hedge fund managers could see that this is a trend and it could strike fear in their hearts,” she said.

Hedge funds reached by Reuters declined to comment. But the industry has in the past rebuffed criticism over fees and performance by saying returns tend to outperform when markets fall. It has also pointed to strong demand: hedge funds which manage $3 trillion attracted $30.5 billion in new money during the second quarter alone.

Stephen Nesbitt, who runs consulting firm Cliffwater LLC and works with prominent pension funds, said hedge fund performance, like stock performance, can vary greatly – underscoring the need for investors to make careful choices.

“There are many investors who are happy with the results. It works for some and it has to do with implementation,” he said.

It’s not out of the ordinary for pension funds to negotiate with hedge funds on the matter of fees. The Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board (PRIM) was doing exactly that even before the CalPERS news came out. From Reuters:

Massachusetts, which invests roughly $5.6 billion with hedge funds, is pushing to move some of that money into separately managed accounts and may even invest, at a lower cost, in liquid alternative strategies.

“Moves by the big leading pensions like Calpers only reaffirms liquid alternatives are the wave of the future,” said Brad Alford, chief investment officer at Alpha Capital Management, which has put money into hedge funds and also now offers liquid alternative funds.

“Smart investors are no longer willing to pay these high fees for single digit returns,” Alford said. “High fees, little transparency, limited liquidity, light regulation plus hard to measure risk from leverage and derivatives are not a good investment solution.”

The Los Angeles Fire & Police Pension System chose to drop hedge funds long before CalPERS made headlines; they made the move early this summer when they removed $550 million from hedge funds.

Photo by www.SeniorLiving.Org

Zimbabwe Looks To Attract American Pension Funds

Africa

Zimbabwe is hoping the latest re-vamp of its stock exchange settlement times will attract traders from around the world – including American pension funds. Reported by All Africa:

ZIMBABWE is hoping for an increase in foreign traders on the local bourse following the launch of the Central Securities Depository which will reduce settlement time frames on trades.

Chengetedzai Depository Company CEO Mr Campbell Musiwa told a Press briefing yesterday that the launch of the CSD will heighten foreign participation from the current range of 60-70 percent boosted by the anticipated participation of US pension funds.

Mr Musiwa said American pension funds are not allowed to invest in any country where there is no CSD.

“Now that we have a CSD, American pension funds are going to invest in Zimbabwe. It’s interesting to note that 60-70 percent of our trades in Zimbabwe are actually coming from the foreigners,” said Musiwa.

“So by the implementation of the CSD we are hoping that there’s going to be an increase in terms of the trades that are going to happen on the stock exchange coming from the foreigners,” he added.

The launch of the CSD is a plus as it reduces settlement time frames. The country has set a target to operate at T+3 settlement time frame on trading of securities by June next year from the current T+7.

The T stands for transaction date denotes the day the transaction takes place while the number symbolises how many days after the transaction date the settlement or the transfer of money and security ownership takes place.

“Foreign investors look at Zimbabwe and when they see manual processes they say it’s not efficient. The CSD will bring efficiency,” said Mr Musiwa.

Zimbabwe officials called the faster transaction time a “historic” step, and officials indicated they will soon be working toward making transactions on cell phones.

Survey: 88% of Pension Funds Prefer Hiring Firms They’ve Already Worked With

balance. retirement decision

A recent survey from consulting firm Aon Hewitt suggests that pension funds looking to hire consultants or outsource investment management duties will overwhelmingly consider firms they’ve already worked with over those they haven’t.

This survey comes from Britain—but it’s a safe bet that funds in the U.S. behave similarly.

Reported by Financial News:

Pension funds that are contemplating bringing in a fiduciary manager – a single firm to take on most, if not all, active investment responsibilities – are overwhelmingly more likely to employ a firm they already know rather than a newcomer, a survey for consultancy Aon Hewitt suggests.

Only 12% of 125 funds said they would bring in a firm they did not already employ.

In choosing among firms that already worked for them, 59% would go for their consultant and 30% for a fund manager.

[…]

Sion Cole, head of client solutions at Aon Hewitt, who is responsible for its £6.2 billion fiduciary business, said: “Fiduciary management has to be built on a level of trust. What we’re seeing is that pension trustees are going out to market, assessing their options and then appointing someone they know and trust to do that job.”

Pension Funds Stay Silent on Corporate Tax Avoidance

Monopoly Board income tax

Pension funds are no strangers to using their clout to push for changes within the companies they invest in—in the last few years, dozens of funds have called for more sustainable business practices from fossil fuel-oriented companies and advocated new safety guidelines for gun manufacturers.

But on one issue, public pension funds are remaining silent. The issue: corporate tax avoidance. As reported by the New York Times:

In the outcry about the recent merger mania to take advantage of the tax avoidance transactions known as inversions, certain key players have been notably silent: public pension funds.

Many of the nation’s largest public pension funds — managing trillions of dollars on behalf of police and fire departments, teachers and others — have major stakes in American companies that are seeking to renounce their corporate citizenship in order to lower their tax bill.

While politicians have criticized these types of deals — President Obama has called them “wrong” and he is examining ways to end the practice — public pension funds don’t appear to be using their influence as major shareholders to encourage corporations to stay put.

Tax avoidance made headlines again last week when Burger King announced it was buying Tim Horton’s, a move which would make Burger King a “citizen” of Canada for tax purposes.

Pension funds didn’t speak up. But why? The NY Times speculates that investment performance has a lot to do with it:

Public pension funds may be so meek on the issue of inversions because they are conflicted. On one side, the funds say they care about the long term and the implications for their state. Calpers’s “Investment Beliefs” policy states that the pension system should “consider the impact of its actions on future generations of members and taxpayers,” yet most pension funds are underfunded and, frankly, desperate to show investment returns. Mergers for tax inversion can prop up share prices of the acquirers and clearly help pension funds, at least in the short term, show improved performance.

CalPERS is usually one of the first funds to use “activist investing” tactics to push for changes in the companies they invest in. But the fund has remained unusually quiet. The fund talked to the NY Times and gave an explanation:

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the nation’s largest public pension fund and typically one of the most vocal, has remained silent.

“We don’t have a view on this from an investor standpoint — we’re globally invested, as you know, and appreciate that tax reform is a government role,” Anne Simpson, Calpers’s senior portfolio manager and director of global governance, told me. “We do expect companies to act with integrity, whatever the issue at hand — that goes without saying. We also want to see a focus on the long term.”

When I pressed for more, her spokesman wrote to me, “We’re going to have to take a pass on this one.”

Mark Cuban recently stated that he would sell the stock of any company that moved out of the United States to avoid taxes.

 

Photo by TaxRebate.org.uk