How Stupid are Credit Rating Agencies?

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Yes, unfunded liabilities as of June 30, 2020 are “more than $60 billion”. Much more ($128 billion under GASB68 and and $94 billion using understated valuation liabilities). But, setting that aside , how is Sweeney planning on reducing that massive debt?

Simple: lower pension payments…..

Clearly, we need to do everything we can to cut the cost of our annual pension payments at both the state and local levels in order to continue to guarantee the retirement payments our retirees have earned and to reduce the unfunded liability that is such a burden to taxpayers.

That is why we have developed legislation to enable our state and local pension systems to add revenue-generating assets like water and sewage treatment systems, High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, parking facilities and real estate to provide new, diversified sources of revenue for their investment portfolios.

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 17 June 2021

Publication Site: Burypensions

Why Engine No. 1’s Victory Is a Wake-up Call for ExxonMobil and Others

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Over the past two weeks, activist hedge fund investor Engine No. 1 scored a victory for the climate change movement by wresting three board seats at ExxonMobil with the support of the “Big Three” institutional investment firms BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. But the episode also marks a failure in ExxonMobil’s “corporate diplomacy” because of its inability to convincingly demonstrate that it is committed to mitigating climate risks and protecting its long-term business value, according to Wharton management professor Witold Henisz.

Engine No. 1 has only a 0.02% stake in ExxonMobil, but the climate risk issues it pushed for were sufficient to get the three big investment firms on its side. In explaining its stance, BlackRock stated that the energy major needs “to further assess the company’s strategy and board expertise against the possibility that demand for fossil fuels may decline rapidly in the coming decades.” BlackRock CEO Larry Fink had reiterated his company’s commitment to combating climate change in his 2021 annual letter to CEOs; in his 2020 letter to CEOs, he had said that “climate risk is investment risk.”

Author(s): Witold Henisz

Publication Date: 15 June 2021

Publication Site: Knowledge @ Whatron

NJ PFRS Asset Move

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The New Jersey Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) was supposed to get their assets to invest three years ago but the process seems only to be starting now with an RFQ for Class Counsel that the PFRS board sent out yesterday.

Here is how much is involved.

From the latest Division of Investment report there is about $89 billion to split up.

From the latest actuarial reports for the system PFRS is allocated about one-third of the market value of assets:

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 15 June 2021

Publication Site: Burypensions

2021 Update: Public Plan Funding Improves as Workforce Declines

Full Report: https://crr.bc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/SLP78.pdf

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The aggregate funded ratio improved from 73 to 75 percent from FY 2020 to 2021. At the same time, contribution rates rose from 21 to 22 percent of payrolls.

While initial expectations for public pensions were low due to COVID, financial markets rebounded and municipal tax revenues were quite resilient.

Yet one other COVID-related factor – cuts to the state and local workforce – impacted public pension finances in FY 2021.

These cuts had little impact on funded status and required contribution amounts, but they do explain the rise in contribution rates, which are expressed as a share of lower payrolls.

Author(s): Jean-Pierre Aubry, Kevin Wandrei

Publication Date: June 2021

Publication Site: Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Decisions Finally Coming in Long-Running Battle with Hedge Fund Titans in Kentucky Pension Case, Mayberry v. KKR

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You can find all the major filings at Kentucky Pension Case. The two below are over the most heated current issue: whether the Tier 3 Plaintiffs can move forward. Judge Shepherd said effectively that he needed to see what the attorney general planned to do before he decided that.

Given that the justification for the attorney general repeated extension requests was to wrap his mind around the case, and the Calcaterra report looked like Kentucky Retirement Systems hiring an outside firm to brief the attorney general, the new filing is entirely old hat. It has not only has no new arguments, it is even more openly cribbed from older plaintiff filings that the original attorney general intervention, where his office at least re-wrote a fair bit of the material into white shoe tall building lawyer style. Here, nearly all of the filing is a cut and paste, including the charts.

Author(s): Yves Smith

Publication Date: 4 June 2021

Publication Site: naked capitalism

Activist Likely to Gain Third Seat on Exxon Board

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/activist-likely-to-gain-third-seat-on-exxon-board-11622664757

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An activist investor is likely to pick up a third seat on the board of Exxon Mobil Corp., giving it additional leverage to press the oil giant to address investor discontent about diminished profits and its fossil-fuel focused strategy amid concerns about climate change.

Exxon said Wednesday that an updated vote count showed shareholders backed a third nominee of Engine No. 1, an upstart hedge fund that had already won two board seats at Exxon’s annual shareholder meeting last week. The final vote hasn’t been certified, Exxon said, and could take days or weeks to be finalized, according to people familiar with the matter.

Engine No. 1, which owns a tiny fraction of Exxon’s stock, had sought four seats on the board and argued the Texas oil giant should commit to carbon neutrality, effectively bringing its emissions to zero—both from the company and its products—by 2050, as some peers have. If the preliminary voting results hold, it will control a quarter of Exxon’s 12-person board.

…..

Shareholders representing nearly 56% of shares that were eligible to vote supported a proposal calling for Exxon to disclose more about direct and indirect lobbying spending and policies, while about 64% voted for Exxon to release a report on how its lobbying aligns with Paris climate accords.

Author(s): Christopher M. Matthews

Publication Date: 2 June 2021

Publication Site: WSJ

Pennsylvania’s Biggest Pension Racks Up Costs After Misreporting Returns

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/pennsylvanias-biggest-pension-racks-up-costs-after-misreporting-returns-11620990002

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The board of trustees overseeing the $62 billion Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System has spent more than $1 million so far to investigate and contain fallout from an inaccurate report on investment results delivered late last year. The report led to a mistaken conclusion that no increase in employee pension contributions would be needed this year.

The system’s trustees have hired batteries of lawyers since the mistake was revealed. The board said in April that it had hired law firms to conduct an investigation into the miscalculation and to respond to a federal grand jury subpoena requesting documents. It couldn’t be determined whether the subpoena relates to the miscalculation.

…..

However, in March the pension system said that the actual nine-year return came to 6.34%, triggering an increase in employee pension contributions reportedly affecting some 100,000 workers whose contributions will increase by 0.50% to 0.75% starting July 1. For instance, a school worker who earns about $45,000 annually would have roughly $8.65 withheld from each biweekly paycheck, the system’s website explains.

Author(s): Preeti Singh

Publication Date: 14 May 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

FBI Said to Seek Evidence of Kickbacks, Bribery at Pennsylvania PSERS

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/fbi-said-to-seek-evidence-of-kickbacks-bribery-at-pennsylvania-psers/

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Subpoenas indicate that the FBI and federal prosecutors are seeking evidence of kickbacks and bribes in an investigation of the $62 billion Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS)’s misstatement of its 2020 investment performance and its real estate investment in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In December, PSERS’ board of trustees certified the contribution rates for its members. The board was told by its general investment consultant and another firm that the retirement system’s nine-year performance figure was 6.38%, which was just high enough to avoid triggering additional contributions under state law.

……

The court orders reportedly reveal that the FBI and prosecutors are investigating possible “honest services fraud” and wire fraud. Under a 2010 US Supreme Court ruling, federal prosecutors need proof of illegal payments to seek criminal charges against state officials for not providing honest services, the Inquirer reported.

No one at PSERS, including the executives who received subpoenas, has been accused of any wrongdoing.

And according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, PSERS’ board of trustees has spent more than $1 million and counting in its investigation of the reporting error.

Author(s): Michael Katz

Publication Date: 19 May 2021

Publication Site: ai-CIO

PSERS bet big on this scrubs brand whose IPO boosted a Steelers owner’s billions

Link: https://www.inquirer.com/business/figs-scrubs-psers-steelers-tull-ipo-20210602.html

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Figs Inc., which sells stylish hospital scrubs, has pulled off a successful public stock offering that has enriched a Pittsburgh investor along with Pennsylvania’s beleaguered school pension fund and other early backers, at least on paper.

Investors’ appetite for attractive new stocks appears to have paid off for Thomas Tull, a billionaire tech investor and Steelers part-owner, by more than $20-$1, while quadrupling the PSERS pension fund’s investment — if it can cash out its shares at today’s bullish prices.

Early private investors typically face a “lock-up” period, often six months, before they can sell all shares. The stock could gain value or crash before the shares are sold.

Still, a big Figs payday would be a boost to beleaguered PSERS chief investment officer James Grossman. His team’s complex and often secretive investments have been criticized by a growing reform faction of PSERS trustees who say the fund could do better in low-cost index funds.

Author(s): Joseph N. DiStefano

Publication Date: 2 June 2021

Publication Site: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Internal PSERS documents show how Pa’s biggest pension fund got key financial calculation wrong

Link: https://www.inquirer.com/business/psers-pension-error-mistake-teachers-fbi-20210530.html

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After Pennsylvania’s biggest pension plan botched a crucial financial calculation, the FBI launched an investigation, the fund’s board began its own probe, and 100,000 public school employees suddenly faced paying more into the retirement system.

Now The Inquirer and Spotlight PA have obtained new internal fund documents that shed light on that consequential mistake. The material traces the error to “data corruption” in just one month — April 2015 — over the near-decade-long period reviewed for the calculation.

The error was small. It falsely boosted the $64 billion PSERS fund’s performance by only about a third of a percentage point over a financial quarter. Even so, it was just enough to wrongly lift the fund’s financial returns over a key state-mandated hurdle used to gauge performance.

The documents reveal that a fund consultant, Aon, blamed the mistake on its clerical staff for inputting bad data. The material also shows that even though the fund hired a consultant, the ACA Compliance Group, to check the calculations, the consultant made only limited checks, and skipped over the month with the critical errors.

Author(s): Joseph N. DiStefano, Craig R. McCoy, Angela Couloumbis

Publication Date: 30 May 2021

Publication Site: Philadelphia Inquirer

The Exxon Vote: Pension Supporters Stay Onboard to Advance Change

https://www.ai-cio.com/news/the-exxon-vote-pension-supporters-stay-onboard-to-advance-change/

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Sticking around and backing dissident board candidates worked. Instead of divesting from Exxon Mobil, the US’s biggest oil company, the nation’s three largest public pension funds pursued a successful strategy of advocating for change, and they just helped elect a pair of outside directors. Expect more of this tack against fossil fuel outfits.  

Running counter to the trend of pension programs dumping fossil fuel stocks, these giant retirement systems—the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), and the New York State Common Retirement Fund—believe that, in most cases, working from within is the better way to promote change.

They were key players in electing the two outside directors (a third is still up in the air as proxy ballots are counted), along with huge asset managers BlackRock and Vanguard, plus other pension entities such as the Church of England’s program.

Author(s): Larry Light

Publication Date: 1 June 2021

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Hard Lessons From the Coming Public Pension Plan Shortfall

Link: https://www.thestreet.com/investing/hard-lessons-from-the-coming-public-pension-plan-shortfall

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I predict that state and local government balance sheets, already reeling from the pandemic, will be devastated in coming years by the stock and bond markets’ disappointing returns.

That’s because these governments’ pension plans are based on unrealistic assumptions about how those markets will perform in the future, and are therefore woefully underfunded. In fact, even with their optimistic assumptions, those funds are already underfunded. Their “actuarial funded ratio” (the ratio of the actuarial value of their assets to the actuarial value of their liabilities) is just 71.5% currently.

These plans are hoping to make up their actuarial deficits by earning outsized investment returns. I’m willing to bet their earnings instead will fall far short of historical averages, and they will have to make up the shortfall either by raising taxes, cutting services, or declaring bankruptcy.

Author(s): Mark Hulbert

Publication Date: 25 May 2021

Publication Site: The Street