The star portfolio manager at the centre of a fraud at the U.S. funds unit of Allianz SE (ALVG.DE) relied on the German insurer’s good name to lure investors and thrived from a lack of oversight as he pocketed $60 million in pay, U.S. authorities said.
Gregoire “Greg” Tournant, a citizen of France and the United States, was indicted on Tuesday for securities fraud, investment adviser fraud, wire fraud and obstruction of justice in a scheme that ran from 2014 to 2020. read more
It was a major development in a two-year saga that has haunted and embarrassed Allianz, one of the globe’s biggest financial firms, and began after the $11 billion in funds managed by Tournant collapsed as markets roiled with the outbreak of the coronavirus in early 2020.
U.S. prosecutors on Tuesday said Tournant faked documents, fabricated risk reports, altered spreadsheets, and lied about the investment strategy.
Author(s): Tom Sims, Alexander Hübner and John O’Donnell
Despite strong rhetoric from Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other top state officials demanding public pension funds divest more than $100 million in Russia-based assets, state lawmakers now say they won’t act until the Fall veto session.
A key legislative proposal to force the pullout in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine died in a Senate committee awaiting a vote.
Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, declined to be interviewed for this report, but his staff suggested the Senate had too little time before the session closed on April 9. The House bill — which passed by a vote of 114-0 on April 5 — was never taken up in the Senate chamber.
Using pension investment decisions as a way to prompt social change has long been controversial. In the past, Illinois funds have divested from companies and funds related to Sudan, Iran and businesses that boycott Israel following direction from lawmakers.
The Illinois State Board of Investments creates a prohibited list of companies for the funds to consider. The most recent list does not contain companies or funds connected to the Russian invasion.
“How, as a society, should we think about our pension systems assets?” Amanda Kass, Associate Director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois – Chicago, asked. “I also see this kind of scrutiny of investing in Russian assets as part of this larger movement.”
On May 19, the S&P 500 opened the day near bear market territory; i.e., at a 20% drop from a recent high. On May 18, the S&P 500 experienced a 4% decline—the largest single-day decrease since June 2020. The last time the S&P 500 entered bear market territory was in March 2020, albeit short-lived, as the market turned around and headed into a two-year rally that peaked in early January 2022.
The current equity market losses (and some corporate bond losses) are primarily the result of several factors: 1) earnings reports from large American retailers, including Walmart and Target, show evidence that the continued high inflation rate may be affecting consumer demand; 2) the war in Ukraine has added to inflationary pressures, prompting the Federal Reserve (Fed) to increase interest rates and reduce bond holdings; and 3) recent COVID-19 shutdowns in China have led to a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy.
Author(s): Jennifer Johnson and Michele Wong
Publication Date: 19 May 2022
Publication Site: NAIC Capital Markets Special Report
Losses across both stock and bond markets delivered a double blow to the funds that manage more than $4.5 trillion in retirement savings for America’s teachers, firefighters and other public workers. These retirement plans returned a median minus 4.01% in the first quarter, according to data from the Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service. Recent losses have further eroded their holdings.
“It’s a tough period,” said Jay Bowen, manager of the Tampa Firefighters and Police Officers Pension Fund. “Nobody is immune.”
The declines in stocks and bonds are inflicting pain on household and institutional investors in 2022. The S&P 500 has returned minus 13.5% year to date through Friday, while the Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate bond index — largely U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities — returned minus 10.5%.
Pension funds maintain huge portfolios of stocks, bonds and other assets, wielding significant power on Wall Street, where their purchases and sales can shift prices and investment managers vie for their business. Their losses can raise costs for governments and workers, squeeze municipal budgets and drive up taxes.
New York City’s comptroller is the latest public official trying to change laws aimed at limiting risk in pension investments, as U.S. state and local pension funds try to plug shortfalls in a low-return environment.
Comptroller Brad Lander, who oversees about $260 billion in retirement money for city police, firefighters, teachers and other public workers, is asking New York lawmakers for more flexibility to invest in private markets, high-yield debt and foreign stocks. The state comptroller’s office, which supervises another $280 billion in retirement assets, views the idea favorably, with a representative saying such flexibility “is key in times of market volatility.”
Pension funds, like household investors, are facing a relatively bleak environment for stocks and bonds, the bread and butter of a traditional retirement portfolio. In the face of historic inflation and Federal Reserve efforts to contain it, these funds are finding they can no longer rely on bonds to rise when equities fall and vice versa. In the first quarter, the S&P 500 returned minus 4.6% while the Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate bond index returned minus 5.93%.
“Those two things taken together is what’s scary: the prospect of both going down at the same time,” said Steve Foresti, chief investment officer at Wilshire Associates, which advises large public pension funds. Retirement portfolio managers, he said, are asking “in that environment, do I have anything that actually goes up?”
As economic sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine spread, state and local public pension plans are looking at selling off their Russian-related assets and some are already doing so.
Lawmakers in at least a dozen states are pressuring their pension funds to divest from Russian-related investments. Divestment isn’t likely to have much impact on the funds themselves as Russian-domiciled investments make up less than 1% of most (if not all) state portfolios. But collectively, it sends a message. For example, California’s CalPERS is the largest pension fund in the world and it alone holds nearly $1 billion in Russian assets.
However, it’s likely that at least some (if not all of) these funds will be selling at a loss. Here is a snapshot of what’s happening across the U.S.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System is now planning to formally define the term “diverse manager” and adjust their definition of “emerging manager.” Though the two categories overlap, they are not identical.
The term “emerging manager” is based on the following criteria, according to CalSTRS: “the amount of assets under management; fund lifecycle of funds; firm legal structure; non-employee ownership percentage; and other various factors including track record, private placement memorandum.”
The term “diverse manager” will refer exclusively to the diversity of the firm’s ownership. The term will be defined in a tiered way such that if a firm is 25% to 49% owned by women, ethnic minorities, and/or LGBTQ individuals, it will be labeled as “substantially diverse.” A firm would be labeled as “majority diverse” if it is more than 50% owned by women, ethnic minorities, and/or LGBTQ people. Ethnic minorities include all non-white groups listed on the census.
US CMBS loan defaults declined significantly in 2021 compared with 2020, as the resumption of economic activity supported a recovery in asset performance and property cash flows from their pandemic lows, says Fitch Ratings in its US CMBS 2021 Loan Default Study. The total annual default rate for Fitch-rated CMBS transactions declined to 0.4% in 2021, down from 3.3% in 2020.
Author(s): Stephanie Duski, Melissa Che, Everett Bruer, Sarah Repucci
Pension funds around the U.S. are upping their allocations to private equity after a year of record-breaking returns. According to data obtained from Preqin, the average public pension’s allotment to private equity increased to 8.9% in 2021. In contrast, the average allocation was just 6.5% in 2012.
New York City’s pensions are among those that may see an increased allocation to the asset class in their portfolios should a new law pass. Currently, New York State implements a “basket clause,” which prevents public pensions from investing above 25% of their total portfolios in investments considered higher risk, including real estate, infrastructure, hedge funds, international equities, and private equity. The proposed law would increase that allocation to 35% for all pension funds in the state. If the law passed, the boards of New York City’s five public pensions would vote on whether to increase the “basket” for their own pension funds.
New York City Interim CIO Michael Haddad, who is responsible for overseeing investments in the five pension plans across the city, says that while the change in the law isn’t targeted at private equity exclusively, it’s likely that the asset class would increase.
New York employees and taxpayers are unwittingly financing Russian companies and the oligarch pals of Vladimir Putin with at least $519 million invested in assets now frozen by the war-mongering dictator, The Post has learned.
City and state pension systems have pledged to sell off the holdings in protest of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, but Moscow has prohibited foreign investors from dumping the stocks.
“Putin is a thug and he’s holding our money hostage,” said Gregory Floyd, a Teamsters union leader and trustee of the New York City Employee Retirement System, NYCERS.
New York City’s five pension systems – covering teachers, cops, firefighters and other city employees – have invested a total $284.5 million in 33 publicly traded Russian stocks, according to records released to The Post by city Comptroller Brad Lander’s office.
On Feb. 25, the market value of the Russian assets was $185.9 million, nearly $100 million less than the purchase price, the latest available records show.
At their board meeting last week, Pennsylvania’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System voted to hire law firm Blank Rome to help determine if it should sue Aon, an investment consultant the pension fund hired.
The potential suit concerns a calculation error Aon made that caused PSERS to inaccurately report its returns in December 2020. While initially the nine-year performance figure was reported to be 6.38%, a correction showed that it was in fact lower, and thus below the threshold needed to prevent increased contributions. When the miscalculation was revealed in March 2021, the pension fund’s beneficiaries were forced to increase their payments.
PSERS paid Aon $7.2 million for investment advice over the course of almost a decade. Currently, Aon is still employed by PSERS. Both the FBI and the SEC are investigating the miscalculation. PSERS is also under investigation for gifts given by Wall Street firms to PSERS employees.
Arguably, trustees and investment teams need a serious conversation with portfolio managers who are overweight in companies and countries that could foreseeably lose favor and stock exchange value. To ground that dialog, some form of risk analysis is required. One protocol could be as primitive as routinely identifying which major corporate equity and debt holdings in a system’s portfolio have cost and revenue exposure of more than 10 or 15 percent in such potentially at-risk regimes, and prodding managers to trim down those geopolitically vulnerable positions unless there is a clearly compelling undervaluation thesis. Another sensible approach would be to require underweighting of major companies relative to a benchmark index, based on their percentages of autocrat-nation revenues.
Ultimately at a fiduciary level, if a pension fund’s total worst-case exposure to all earnings and income derived from autocratic nations is an insignificant fraction of its total portfolio, the composite risk is probably not worth losing sleep over, on purely financial grounds. But politics could still enter the theater stage for pension boards that ignore this issue.
Pension consultants and risk advisers have a new role to play in this dialog. ESG investing is now under fire, so a healthy ESG+Gdiscussion is especially timely. If nothing else, informed advisers can help investment teams and trustees identify where their portfolios might contain a blind-side risk that hasn’t received enough attention.