San Francisco Pension Votes to Engage With Fossil Fuel Companies Over Climate Change; Next Step Could Be Divestment

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The Board of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) voted Wednesday to begin engaging with the fossil fuel companies in which it invests.

The vote opens the door for an eventual vote on divesting from fossil-fuel companies altogether – an idea that is sure to receive mixed reviews from board members and city officials.

The pension fund currently holds about $540 million in fossil fuel companies, which accounts for less tan 4 percent of the fund’s entire portfolio, according to SF Gate.

More details from SF Gate:

The board voted Wednesday to go to “level-two engagement,” meaning it will actively attempt to influence the policies of the companies in which it invests. The next step would be to move forward with divesting from the companies.

“If you want to divest, you have to start somewhere,” commission President Victor Makras said. “Our mere size and name brings something to the engagement process.”

[…]

“There is some urgency,” Supervisor John Avalos, who has led the charge, told the board. “We have to take into consideration the real (climate) changes that are happening overnight.”

The counterargument is that stocks of fossil fuel companies are a component of most major index funds, and divesting from them could limit pension-fund revenues that pay for the retirement benefits of thousands of city workers.

“I don’t think I’m in a position to do that,” said Commissioner Brian Stansbury, the only one of seven board members to vote against moving to level two. Stansbury, a San Francisco police officer, expressed concern that moving the money out of fossil fuel assets would be “financially risky.”

The San Francisco Employees Retirement System manages $20 billion in assets.

 

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San Francisco Pension Weighs Larger Emphasis on Local Real Estate

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The San Francisco Employees Retirement System is deciding whether to increase its allocation to real estate in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Specifically, the board is weighing whether to begin allocating up to 3 percent of its assets toward such investments.

However, the area’s high real estate prices warrant caution, according to the fund’s advisors.

From Investments & Pensions Europe:

A 3% target allocation to real estate in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area – first mooted by the retirement board in 2013 – is still being mulled by the pension fund.

No plans were approved at a meeting this month. Its advisers, Angeles Investment Advisors and Cambridge Associates, warned against over-concentration in its real estate porfolio at a time when the pension fund is looking more broadly at real assets.

A recent board meeting document stated: “SFERS private markets team and Cambridge Associates recommend maintaining a broad allocation to real assets rather than carving the category into several pieces such as infrastructure, natural resources, or San Francisco-based real estate.”

[…]

Investment staff will approach managers active in local real estate and evaluate the merits of entering into local co-investments with them.

The staff will also explore whether there are further efforts it can undertake to source and evaluate San Francisco-based real estate investment opportunities with attractive valuations and good prospective returns.

The San Francisco Employees Retirement System manages $20 billion in assets.

 

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San Francisco Pension Approves 5 Percent Allocation to Hedge Funds

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After months of discussion and delays, the San Francisco Employees Retirement System on Wednesday voted to invest up to 5 percent of its assets in hedge funds.

The pension fund has not previously invested in hedge funds. Its investment staff had previously recommended a 10 and a 15 percent allocation, but the board voted 6-1 for a 5 percent investment.

More from SF Gate:

The staff, headed by William Coaker, who joined the pension system last February as chief investment officer, evaluated the new proposal and came up with another of its own, which was approved by the board.

It will reduce the target allocation for U.S. and foreign stocks to 40 percent from 47 percent, increase private equity investments to 18 percent from 16 percent, increase real assets including real estate to 17 percent from 12 percent, reduce bonds and other fixed income to 20 percent from 25 percent and increase hedge funds to 5 percent from zero.

It does not call for investing specifically in Bay Area real estate, which the fund already does to some extent.

[…]

Coaker said he wanted a stake in hedge funds to help reduce the portfolio’s volatility and prevent the steep losses suffered during the 2008 stock market crash. Its assets dropped from $17 billion before the crash to a low of $11 billion. To help make up the shortfall, the city and employees increased their contributions to the fund.

In a memo issued Wednesday, Coaker said the staff had “taken into account the concerns” of city workers and retirees, but said it still believes hedge funds “can play an important role to increase the stability of our funded status, improve our performance in down markets, reduce our beta (volatility), and increase or alpha (or excess returns over the broad market).”

The only board member who voted against the proposal was Herb Meiberger, who previously worked as a security analyst with the pension system. “I just don’t think this is the answer,” he said.

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System manages $20 billion in assets.

 

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San Francisco Pension Investment Staff Recommends Foray Into Hedge Funds

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The investment staff of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) has recommended to the board that the system allocate up to 10 percent of its assets in hedge funds.

SFERS has been waffling for a year over whether or not to put money into hedge funds, and what the allocation should be.

From Bloomberg, via FinAlternatives:

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System staff is recommending its board consider investing 10 percent of assets in hedge funds.

[…]

The staff said it also could support a 5 percent hedge-fund allocation for the $20 billion city pension, according to a memo sent to the board from William Coaker, the chief investment officer. The board is scheduled to consider the recommendation at a Feb. 11 meeting in San Francisco.

“Many of the objections we have heard about hedge funds are at best an incomplete picture,” Coaker’s memo said. “Hedge funds have less than half the volatility of the equity market. Transparency is improving in the hedge-fund industry as a whole.”

The San Francisco pension board in December postponed a decision on adding hedge funds to its investment mix and asked staff for a more detailed analysis ahead of this month’s meeting. The fund isn’t currently invested in hedge funds, which are loosely regulated investment pools that are generally open only to high-net-worth and institutional investors.

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System manages $20 billion in assets.

 

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San Francisco Pension Postpones Appointment of Board Member in Wake of Ethics Complaint

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San Francisco’s former first lady Wendy Paskin-Jordan sits on the board of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS); her seat is appointed by city mayor Ed Lee, who was ready to appoint her to another term.

But an ethics complaint has put Paskin-Jordan’s appointment “on hold”. The details of the complaint:

The main issue discussed Tuesday was her investment in Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo and Co., an investment firm, in which the employees’ pension fund has invested $388 million. In a required financial disclosure statement filed last year, Paskin-Jordan reported she had invested between $100,000 and $1 million in GMO in August 2011. That amount, however, is below the company’s minimum investment threshold of $10 million.

City law prohibits board members from investing in private equity, limited partnerships and in nonpublically traded mutual funds doing business with the Employees’ Retirement System. Additionally, city law prohibits a board member from soliciting or accepting “a business opportunity, a personal loan, a favor or anything of value from any public entity or firm doing business with SFERS.”

Paskin-Jordan has been out of town recently, but the rest of the board wants to give her a chance to explain the situation for herself in front of the board. Meanwhile, she has the support of the retirement system’s Executive Director. From the SF Examiner:

In a Dec. 8 letter to the Ethics Commission, retirement system Executive Director Jay Huish argues that both these laws were not broken by Paskin-Jordan’s investment.

Huish noted that GMO is considered a manager of public-market assets, and that Paskin-Jordan had received a threshold waiver to invest in GMO from her former employees who went on to work there. That waiver, Huish said, was granted before she was appointed to the board and exercised after she was on the board.

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System manages about $20 billion in assets.

 

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San Francisco Pension Postpones Hedge Fund Vote

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The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System is delaying a vote on a new proposal to begin investing in hedge funds.

The scaled-down proposal calls for investing a maximum of 5 percent of assets in hedge funds. Originally, the pension fund was considering a 15 percent allocation.

The vote will be held in February.

More from SF Gate:

The board of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System voted Wednesday to postpone a decision on investing in hedge funds until February to give staff time to research an alternative proposal that was submitted Tuesday night.

The alternative calls for investing just 5 percent of the fund’s $20 billion in assets in hedge funds and — in a new twist — putting 3 percent in Bay Area real estate.

The system’s investment staff had recommended sinking $3 billion — or 15 percent of the fund’s $20 billion in assets — in hedge funds as part of an asset-allocation overhaul. The system, which manages pension money for about 50,000 active and retired city workers, has never invested in hedge funds. The goals of the plan included reducing volatility, improving performance in down markets and enhancing diversification.

Staff also would have supported investing 10 or 12 percent in hedge funds, but didn’t want to go below that. “Without 10 percent it wouldn’t be a meaningful hedge against a down market. We felt that was an absolute minimum,” Jay Huish, the system’s executive director, said in an interview last month.

But some members of the board were reluctant to make that big a commitment to hedge funds, especially after the giant California Employees Retirement System announced Sept. 15 that it will exit all hedge funds over the next year “as part of an ongoing effort to reduce complexity and costs in its investment program.” At that time, CalPERS had $4 billion or 1.4 percent of its assets in hedge funds. San Francisco’s system would have been one of the first public pension funds to make a major decision on hedge funds since then.

At Tuesday’s meeting, about 30 active and retired city employees begged the board not to invest 15 percent in hedge funds. Among their arguments: that hedge funds are too risky, illiquid, not transparent, charge excessive fees and may amplify systemic risks in the financial system.

Only one spoke in favor of it: Mike Hebel, who represents the San Francisco Police Officers Association. He said the system needs an asset allocation makeover to prevent another hit like it took in the 2008-09 market crash and hedge funds should be part of that. The value of its investments fell by about $6.3 billion or 36 percent during that period.

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System manages $20 billion in assets.

 

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San Francisco Pension To Consider Smaller Foray Into Hedge Funds

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The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System has spent the better part of 6 months weighing whether to dive into hedge funds for the first time.

The fund was originally considering a plan to invest up to 15 percent of assets – or $3 billion – in hedge funds. But the figure was too high for many board members, and the vote was tabled numerous times.

Now, the board is considering a proposal that would allow the fund to invest up to 3 percent of assets in hedge funds – a much smaller allocation that may be more palatable to board members.

From Bloomberg:

The president of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System board has asked advisers to look at a hedge fund investment of zero or 3 percent, less than the 15 percent proposed by the pension’s staff.

The board will meet today in San Francisco to consider the proposals, which are part of a broader effort to recalibrate the fund’s asset allocation. The updated figures were in a letter from Angeles Investment Advisors.

“The VM mixes have higher volatility,” Leslie Kautz and Allen Yeh wrote in a Nov. 25 memo to Victor Makras providing modeling on several mixes that they said he specified.

[…]

The hedge fund proposal stems from a June meeting when the San Francisco staff recommended changes to the fund’s asset allocation and the board voted to take 90 days to study options.

The staff recommended a 15 percent hedge-fund allocation, citing good returns, low volatility and very good risk-adjusted returns, according to a memo today to the board from William Coaker, the fund’s chief investment officer.

“Hedge funds provide good protection when stocks decline,” Coaker said. “Since 1990, they have lost only one-fourth the amount stocks have lost in market downturns.”

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System manages $20 billion in assets, none of which are allocated to hedge funds.

 

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San Francisco Pension Not Expected to Approve Hedge Fund Proposal, But Alternate Plan Could Pass

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Trustees of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System will vote sometime in the next few weeks on a proposal to invest up to 15 percent of assets – or $3 billion – in hedge funds.

The vote has been proposed and tabled nearly half a dozen times since May.

According to reporting by Pensions & Investments, the proposal isn’t expected to pass a vote – although a toned-down version, where hedge fund investments are capped at 5 percent of assets, has a better chance at passing.

From Pensions & Investments:

The board of the San Francisco City & County Employees’ Retirement System is expected to reject Chief Investment Officer William Coaker’s plan for a 15% allocation to hedge funds at a meeting in the next several weeks and instead limit hedge funds to no more than 5% of the portfolio, sources say.

The board had been scheduled to vote on the hedge fund allocation at a special meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

Board President Victor Makras said in an interview that a new special meeting will be held in the next few weeks. He said he will schedule the meeting as soon as he can poll members for a suitable date.

He said the Nov. 5 meeting was canceled because several board members were traveling out of the country.

The board is also expected, as part of the hedge fund vote, to bar or severely limit the use of leverage by hedge fund managers, a common tactic used by such mangers to increase returns.

Mr. Coaker’s plan would shift assets from fixed income and equities to create the new hedge fund allocation.

If the “15 percent” plan passes, the following allocation changes would occur elsewhere in the fund’s portfolio, according to SFGate:

U.S. and foreign stocks would drop to 35 percent from 47 percent of assets. Bonds and other fixed-income would fall to 15 percent from 25 percent. Real estate would rise to 17 percent from 12 percent. Private equity would rise to 18 percent from 16 percent. And hedge funds would go to 15 percent from zero.

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System currently does not invest in hedge funds. It manages $20 billion in assets.

San Francisco Pension To Vote Again On Hedge Funds

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The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System is once again weighing whether to begin investing in hedge funds.

Last Spring, the fund formulated a plan to invest up to 15 percent of its assets, or $3 billion, in hedge funds. But the vote has been tabled three times since then.

This week, the fund will vote again on the issue.

From SFGate.com:

The board of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a controversial proposal to invest $3 billion — 15 percent of its assets — in hedge funds. The system, which manages $20 billion in pension money on behalf of about 50,000 active and former city employees, has no hedge funds today.

[…]

A 15 percent allocation would definitely have an impact on the San Francisco pension fund. William Coaker Jr., who joined the system Jan. 30 as chief investment officer, wants to put 15 percent of its assets in hedge funds as a way to protect against a market correction. But some board members and pensioners see them as too expensive and risky.

[…]

Earlier this year Coaker and his staff, along with outside consultant Leslie Kautz of Angeles Investment Advisors, recommended investing 15 percent of the system’s assets in hedge funds as part of a realignment of its portfolio. The goal was to “reduce volatility in investment returns, improve performance in down markets, enhance diversification of our plan assets, increase the flexibility of the investment strategy, and to increase alpha (excess returns),” according to minutes of the June 18 meeting. Coaker did not return phone calls.

A vote on the measure was scheduled for October but shortly before the meeting, board President Victor Makras learned that Kautz’ firm has a fund of hedge funds registered in the Cayman Islands. “That was a material fact,” Makras said. “I continued the item and instructed the consultant to disclose that to my satisfaction.”

If the fund does vote to invest in hedge funds, there would be the following allocation changes, according to SFGate:

U.S. and foreign stocks would drop to 35 percent from 47 percent of assets. Bonds and other fixed-income would fall to 15 percent from 25 percent. Real estate would rise to 17 percent from 12 percent. Private equity would rise to 18 percent from 16 percent. And hedge funds would go to 15 percent from zero.

The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System manages $20 billion in assets.

San Francisco Pension Backs Off Hedge Funds After Conflicts of Interest Surface

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San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System (SFERS) was set to vote yesterday on whether the fund should allocate up to 15 percent of assets, or $3 billion, to hedge funds.

But the vote never happened, in part because of the objections of union members and retirees who showed up to the meeting. Recent reports of conflicts of interest surrounding the hedge fund investments probably didn’t help, either.

From the International Business Times:

San Francisco officials on Wednesday tabled a proposal to move up to 15 percent of the city’s $20 billion pension portfolio into hedge funds. The move came a day after International Business Times reported that the consultants advising the city on whether to invest in hedge funds currently operate a hedge fund based in the Cayman Islands.

The hedge fund proposal, spearheaded by the chief investment officer of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System, or SFERS, had been scheduled for action this week. If ultimately enacted, it could move up to $3 billion of retiree money from traditional stocks and bonds into hedge funds, potentially costing taxpayers $100 million a year in additional fees.

Pension beneficiaries who oppose the proposal spoke at Wednesday’s meeting of the SFERS board. They cited financial risks and the appearance of possible conflicts of interest in objecting to the hedge fund investments.

Prior to the meeting, the Service Employees International Union, which represents roughly 12,000 members who are eligible for SFERS benefits, asked city officials to have the hedge fund proposal evaluated by a consultant who has worked with boards that have opted against hedge funds.

David Sirota reported on the possible conflicts of interest earlier this week:

[SFERS is] drawing on the counsel of a company called Angeles Investment Advisors, one of a crop of consulting firms that has emerged across the country in recent years to aid municipalities in navigating the murky waters of managing money.

For two decades, Angeles has been employed by the San Francisco pension system to champion the best interests of city taxpayers and employees — the cops, firefighters and other municipal workers who depend on pension payments after their retirement. But the firm is concurrently playing another role that complicates its image as a disinterested guide: An International Business Times review of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents has found that since 2010, Angeles has run a hedge fund based in the Cayman Islands that invests in other hedge funds.

In other words, the consultants that are supposed to be providing unbiased advice about whether San Francisco would be wise to entrust its money to the hedge fund industry are themselves hedge fund players.

SFERS says that, although the vote is tabled for now, it could be brought back at a later time.

This isn’t the first time the pension fund has delayed voting on hedge fund investments. In fact, it’s the third time: the board first delayed the vote in June. Then it delayed the vote again in August.