Pension Transparency Bill Moves Forward in Kentucky House

kentucky

A bill is moving forward in the Kentucky House that would increase the transparency around investments made by the state’s retirement systems.

The Senate unanimously passed the measure last month.

The bill would require the state’s pension funds to disclose the use of placement agents, any fees paid to those agents, and more. An official summary of the bill from Legiscan:

[The bill] require[s] the Judicial Retirement Plan, the Legislators’ Retirement Plan, the Kentucky Retirement Systems, and the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System to establish by reference in administrative regulation a placement agent disclosure policy; require the policy to disclose, at a minimum, to the boards of trustees of the plans and systems the name of the placement agent, dollar value of investment, and the fees or payments made to placement agent for each investment in which a placement agent was utilized; define placement agent; require the plans and systems to submit a quarterly update of the information disclosed to the respective boards of trustees to the Government Contract Review Committee; provide that the disclosure shall apply to contracts established or renewed on or after July 1, 2015.

The Senator sponsoring the bill, Chris McDaniel [R], told the State-Journal:

“The fact of the matter is there is nothing that forces them to disclose this to the General Assembly right now and by extension the public,” McDaniel said. “It’s important people know where money is and isn’t placed, the kinds of returns we are getting and to really force that.

“This will require that they do these things. It’s a bill that public employees want to see pass. It’s a bill transparency advocates want to see pass be it conservative, liberal or otherwise. People want to know how their tax dollars are being spent. I’m optimistic the House will pick it up.”

The bill is called Senate Bill 22.

 

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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.

New Dynamic Emerging Between Pension Funds and Asset Managers As Pensions Look for Lower Costs, More Transparency

opposite arrows

Many pension funds are moving portions of asset management duties in-house in a bid to reduce costs; many more funds are pushing for more transparency from their external asset managers.

In the wake of these trends and others, a recent State Street survey claims that a new dynamic is emerging between pension funds and their asset managers.

More details on the findings of the survey, from State Street executive Rob Baillie:

Many pension funds are looking for a new type of relationship with their asset managers. In interviews conducted as part of our research, pension funds stressed how important it was to find asset managers who can understand their objectives and investment philosophy. The ability to align interests around shared goals is also key to success in these relationships. More than half of pension funds (52 per cent) find it difficult to ensure their asset managers’ interests are tightly aligned with their own. By contrast, asset managers that can build solutions around their clients’ objectives can gain an edge in a highly competitive market.

Transparency is also a key differentiator. In today’s highly regulated environment, pension funds need granular information on the issues that drive risk and performance across their investments. This is a huge challenge in the multi-asset world: almost three out of five pension funds surveyed (58 per cent) say it is a challenge to gain a complete picture of risk-adjusted performance. Asset managers that develop the analytical tools and reporting capabilities to address this need will again have a huge advantage.

[…]

In recent years, many pension funds have decided to insource some of their asset management. This was one of the strongest findings in State Street’s survey of pension funds: 81 per cent said they intended to manage more of their assets in-house.

Insourcing doesn’t remove the need for external asset management, but it does create a new dynamic in the relationship between pension funds and their service providers. They are less willing to pay a premium for straightforward investment strategies that they can easily support in-house. What they value, however, is asset managers that are able to deliver strong and reliable returns through a tailor-made investment solution.

Read more on the survey results here.

 

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San Francisco Pension Investment Staff Recommends Foray Into Hedge Funds

Golden Gate Bridge

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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UK Pensions Argue For Better Reporting Framework For Responsible Investments From Fund Managers

wind farm

A coalition of UK pension funds is calling on fund managers to improve and increase disclosure of the social impact of their investments.

Many of the pension funds in the coalition are taking an increased interest in socially and environmentally responsible investing.

From IPE Real Estate:

Over a dozen schemes with £200bn (€267bn) in assets – including the BT Pension Scheme (BTPS), Universities Superannuation Scheme and Pension Protection Fund – argued that improved reporting and disclosure on public equity investments would help asset owners better assess how well RI matters were aligned with the fund manager’s strategy.

It identified two main principles – of transparent integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and of good stewardship – as key, and added that only “explicit” reporting would allow schemes to gain a better understanding of how such issues impacted short and long-term risk and performance.

Daniel Ingram, the guide’s lead author and head of RI at BT Pension Scheme Management, told IPE reporting was the “missing link” to allow asset owners to make the case for ESG-focused investment.

[…]

Leanne Clements, one of the guide’s deputy editors and responsible investment officer at the £10bn West Midlands Pension Fund, said that, in the fund’s view, there was a need for “broad improvements” in reporting across the fund management industry.

“This is what makes that alignment of UK asset owners totalling over £200bn so important – we need to send a signal to the market, not just select individual managers,” she said.

“There has been some positive direction of travel with regards to climate change and other environmental issues in select managers – and also governance issues. However, social issues appear to be less understood.”

The coalition consists of 16 pension funds that collectively manage more than $300 billion in assets.

 

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Dallas Pension Overvalued Real Estate Investments by Millions, According to Review

real estate

An audit of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System has revealed that the fund overvalued a number of risky real estate investments, including a vineyard in California and luxury homes in Hawaii.

The fund invests heavily in real estate but suffered $96 million in real estate losses in 2013 [Read the Pension360 coverage here].

From the Dallas Morning News:

After a year of wrangling and delay, an independent review of the $3.3 billion fund has confirmed what many suspected: accounting problems.

The review, which focused on the fund’s real estate holdings in 2013, estimates that it overvalued some properties by tens of millions of dollars.

The new appraisals and the city’s push for an audit came after The Dallas Morning News flagged problems with the fund’s accounting. The News reported in early 2013 that the fund valued many of its real estate ventures by what it had invested, rather than by appraisals or other methods. This was contrary to widely accepted standards.

“This report shows we need better governance and more transparency into our pension fund so we can address issues as they come up — not years after the damage has been done,” said Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins, reading from a statement at a news conference he called Tuesday.

The specific findings:

[The review] found that $772 million in assets were at risk of being overvalued “because the valuation approaches or methods … appear to have been improperly applied and/or inconsistent with commonly accepted valuation practice.”

From this pool, Deloitte selected nine large assets that the fund had valued collectively at $585 million. The firm estimated the actual value of these assets instead to be between $507 million and $559 million.

Overvaluing assets on a fund’s books can create a falsely optimistic picture of its overall health, leaving police, firefighters and taxpayers on the hook for the future.

Fund officials, in a statement released Tuesday by their public relations firm, called the overvaluation flagged by Deloitte “financially immaterial when measured against DPFP’s entire investment portfolio.”

The Dallas fund allocated nearly 50 percent of its assets towards real estate investments as of 2012.

 

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Institutional Investors Push Oil Giants to Disclose Climate Change Risks

windmill farm

A coalition of 150 investors – including pension funds from around the world – are calling on oil giants BP and Shell to provide greater transparency regarding the risks that climate change poses to their business models.

More from Chief Investment Officer:

The coalition, which includes pension funds from the UK, US, and Northern Europe, has submitted a resolution to BP outlining the articles they expect it to reveal. These resolutions can be voted upon by all shareholders in the companies. A similar resolution was submitted to Shell last month.

The resolutions include: Stress-testing their business models against the requirement to limit global warming to 2ºC, as agreed by governments at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2010; Reforming their bonus systems so they no longer reward climate-harming activities; Committing to reduce emissions and invest in renewable energy; Disclosing how their public policy plans align with climate change mitigation and risk.

Catherine Howarth, the CEO of ShareAction that helped to coordinate the demands, welcomed the support from the investors. Some 13 UK public sector pensions committed to the project, with three of the Swedish AP funds joining the campaign.

“Millions of pension savers worldwide will want their pension funds to vote in support, demonstrating true commitment to protecting their members from the risks of climate change,” said Howarth. “These resolutions put the global investment community to the test on climate change.”

The move comes as large international investors are considering the risk climate change poses to their portfolio.

Read more coverage on pension funds’ engagement with fossil fuel companies here.

 

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Cincinnati Councilman Proposes Changes to Pension Investment Strategy

graphs and numbers

Cincinnati City Councilman Christopher Smitherman has proposed a series of changes to how the city’s pension money is managed.

The proposals stem from concerns about transparency and high money management costs. Smitherman also wants to change the makeup of the investment board.

The fund returned 16 percent in 2013.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

Specifically he is proposing:

* Adding an elected official to the 11-member board that oversees the pension. Up until 2011, an elected official was part of the board, but the previous city council changed the make-up. Of the 11 members: six are chosen by the mayor with approval from City Council; four members are chosen by current employees and one member is chosen by retirees. Smitherman, whose day job is financial planning, is seeking guidance from his broker about whether he can serve on the pension board.

* Changing how the money is invested to take advantage of the market

“I do not share the general consensus that the assets are being managed properly,” Smitherman wrote in a Jan. 13 letter to current employees and retirees. “The mind set ‘everyone else experienced a downturn’ allows a pathology that mediocre investment returns are decisions that are acceptable.”

Smitherman is concerned about the overall market, but said there are natural head winds that a prudent investment adviser should be able to recognize.

“I am unconvinced that the current investment team is being preventative with their asset allocation for a short or long term down turn in the overall market,” he added in the letter. “The bottom line is I am concerned that City Council will turn over $238 million and get the same investment result.”

Smitherman has also proposed keeping more pension assets in cash form, as well as investing in securities directly instead of through hedge funds.

The proposal was shot down on Wednesday, but Smitherman said he will re-introduce the measure with some key changes.

 

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Top Kentucky Lawmaker Introduces Teacher Pension Funding Bill; Seeks $3 Billion in Bonds

Kentucky

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo has taken up the Teachers Retirement System on one of their funding proposals.

Stumbo on Friday filed a bill calling for the issuing of $3.3 billion in bonds that will be used to fund the teachers system.

More details from the Courier-Journal:

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Friday that the retirement system could capitalize on current low interest rates of around 5 percent and use the bonds to supplement the state’s pension contribution for the next eight years.

“This window is going to close pretty soon,” Stumbo said. “I think the feds, this year, will allow those rates to rise some because the economy is getting better and because the banks aren’t making any money on deposits.”

KTRS estimates that a $3.3 billion bond issue would save the state around half a billion dollars annually by 2026. But the plan only works if investments yield a higher rate of return than the interest on the bonds.

Supporters compare the idea to refinancing a home mortgage at a lower rate. But skeptics view it more like using credit cards to pay off debt, and the measure would need support from a supermajority of lawmakers to pass in an odd year of the legislature.

But lawmakers haven’t forgotten about the transparency issues present at both state pension systems. Lawmakers may still attach strings to the funding that forces the teachers system to make some changes to their opacity. From the Courier-Journal:

Stumbo said he is comfortable allowing bonds for teacher pensions because KTRS appears prudent in its investment strategy. But he said lawmakers might consider additional measures to improve oversight of the system as part of the debate.

Stumbo added that lawmakers are not interested in providing bonds to Kentucky Retirement Systems — the pension system for state and local workers — because of lingering questions over investments and transparency.

The Kentucky Teachers Retirement System is one of the worst funded educator’s pension funds in the U.S.

Likewise, the Kentucky Employees Retirement System is one of the worst funded plans in the country.

UK Parliament May Require Pensions to Disclose Contracts With Asset Managers

big ben

UK pension funds could soon be facing higher transparency standards after Parliament members proposed measures recently to force pension funds to disclose contracts with asset managers.

From Investments and Pensions Europe:

Michael German, a Liberal Democrat peer in the UK upper house, tabled an amendment to the current Pension Scheme Bill – legislating for the introduction of defined ambition schemes – to allow members of trust schemes to request details of voting behaviour and the “selection, appointment and monitoring” of asset managers.

Nick Bourne, government whip in the Lords, said the amendments would go much further than currently proposed increases to scheme transparency, but that there was nonetheless merit in further examining all ideas tabled by German.

“However, we consider that greater transparency in relation to costs and charges, as well as about how schemes manage their investments, go hand in hand,” he said.

“As such, they would be better considered together as part of the same well-established transparency work programme, which is already under way and we are committed to consult on later this year.”

He said legislating for German’s proposals before the other changes surrounding fee disclosure came into force in April would risk introducing transparency in a “piecemeal and uncoordinated way”.

“Introducing these requirements through the amendment would remove the opportunity to consult all relevant stakeholders,” he said.

Instead, Bourne said the government would include the proposals in a forthcoming consultation planned by the Department for Work and Pensions, and could then potentially enact any changes as regulation.

ShareAction, which had been working with German on the amendment, welcomed the government’s commitment.

The responsible investment charity’s chief executive Catherine Howarth said: “We warmly welcome the government’s commitment to action that will give UK pension savers long overdue rights to information about what happens to their money.

“We urge pensions minister Steve Webb to move swiftly to set a consultation timetable to make these rights a reality in 2015.”

Read more about the proposed transparency standards here.

 

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