California Public Pensions Are Major Fossil Fuel Investors

Link:https://www.rigzone.com/news/wire/california_public_pensions_are_major_fossil_fuel_investors-09-dec-2021-167254-article/

Excerpt:

California’s climate-conscious policies aren’t matched by the investment choices of its largest public pension funds, according to a report from two environmental groups. 

Of the 14 top U.S. pension funds analyzed by Stand.earth and Climate Safe Pensions Network, California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as Calpers, and California State Teachers’ Retirement System, known as CalSTRS, were the largest investors in fossil fuel companies, with $27.1 billion and $15.7 billion, respectively, according to findings published Wednesday. 

The two combined hold about half the fossil fuel assets for the entire group, according to the study. Calpers also came first in fossil fuel holdings as a proportion of its total assets under management, at 6.9%.  

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The New York State Teachers’ Retirement System had the second-largest share of its portfolio invested in fossil fuels, at 6.6%. 

Author(s): Robert Tuttle

Publication Date: 9 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Rigzone

Bloomberg, Other Publications Criticize CalPERS’ Leverage on Leverage Plan to Boost Returns While Missing Additional Types of Borrowing

Link:https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2021/12/bloomberg-other-publications-criticize-calpers-leverage-on-leverage-plan-to-boost-returns-while-missing-additional-types-of-borrowing.html

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Excerpt:

The financial press has gone into a round of hand-wringing over CalPERS’ efforts to chase higher returns in a systematically low-return market, now by planning to borrow at the CalPERS level on top of the leverage employed in many of its investment strategies, in particular private equity and real estate.

These normally deferential publications are correct to be worried. Not only is this sort of leverage on leverage dangerous because it can generate meltdowns and fire sales, amplifying damage and potentially creating systemic stresses, but the debt picture at CalPERS is even worse than these accounts they depicted. They failed to factor in yet another layer of borrowing at private equity funds and some real estate funds called subscription line financing, which we’ll describe shortly.

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CalPERS tells other less obvious fibs, such as trying to depict private equity as so critical to success that it need to put more money on that number on the roulette wheel. Remember, the name of the game in investment-land isn’t absolute performance but risk adjusted performance. Not only has private equity not generated the additional returns to compensate for its extra risk at least as long as we’ve been kicking those tires (since 2012), academic experts such as Ludovic Phalippou, Richard Ennis and Eileen Appelbaum have concluded private equity has not even beaten stocks since the financial crisis.

Let us stress that unlike German investors, who have a pretty good handle on all the leverage bets in their investment portfolios and thus can make a solid estimate of how much risk they are adding via borrowing across all their investments, CalPERS is flying blind with respect to private equity. It does not have access to the balance sheets of the portfolio companies in its various private equity funds.

And while having balance sheet would be a considerable improvement over what is has now, it doesn’t give the whole picture. CalPERS would also need to factor in operating leverage. When I was a kid at Goldman, whenever we analyzed leverage (as in all the time), we had to dig into the footnotes of financial statements, find out the amount of operating lease payments, and capitalize them, as in gross up the annual lease payments to an equivalent amount of borrowing so we could look at different companies on a more comparable basis.

Author(s): Yves Smith

Publication Date: 10 Dec 2021

Publication Site: naked capitalism

Omicron Wave Sees South Africa’s Weekly Excess Deaths Almost Double

Link:https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-08/s-african-weekly-excess-deaths-almost-double-amid-omicron-wave

Excerpt:

South African excess deaths, a measure of mortality above a historical average, almost doubled in the week ending Nov. 28 from the preceding seven-day period as a new coronavirus variant spread across the country.

During the period 2,076 more people died than would normally be expected, the South African Medical Research Council said in a report on Wednesday. That compares with 1,091 the week earlier.

The rise, while only reflecting a week of data, contrasts with hospitalization numbers that show that most admissions have mild forms of the coronavirus, spurring hope that the omicron variant is more benign than earlier strains.

Author(s):Antony Sguazzin

Publication Date: 8 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg

Illinois Effort to Fix Ailing Local Pensions Faces Legal Hurdle

Link:https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/illinois-effort-to-fix-ailing-local-pensions-faces-legal-hurdle

Excerpt:

A court ruling as soon as this month will help determine the fate of one of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s key plans to ease the massive shortfall in local pension funds across the state. A 2019 law championed by Pritzker would merge about 650 local police and firefighter pensions with assets topping $16 billion into two funds to cut costs and improve returns.

….

The law set a June 30 deadline for the consolidation of the funds, but many of the local pensions are hesitating or even refusing to merge until they learn the outcome of litigation to block the combining. Three dozen current employees and retirees, along with 18 local retirement plans, filed a lawsuit in February in Illinois circuit court saying the consolidation violates the state constitution.

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So far, however, the new Illinois Police Officers’ Pension Investment Fund hasn’t received any assets and expects to begin getting funds around March, said executive director Richard White. About 44% of the 357 downstate and suburban police funds that were supposed to be merged into the bigger pension plan haven’t even responded to requests for information, White said. 

Author(s): Shruti Singh

Publication Date: 2 Dec 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg Quint

Flood-Threat Assessment Finds Danger Goes Far Beyond U.S. Homes

Link:https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2021-flood-risk-critical-infrastructure/

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Excerpt:

Nearly a quarter of U.S. critical infrastructure—utilities, airports, police stations and more—is at risk of being inundated by flooding, according to a new report by First Street Foundation, a Brooklyn nonprofit dedicated to making climate risk more visible to the public.

Roughly 14% of Americans’ properties face direct risk from major storms, but the study shows danger extends far from those property lines.

The authors say the report provides the first holistic understanding of flood risk beyond individual property level. In addition to critical infrastructure, the report assesses commercial buildings, millions of miles of roads and socially important institutions such as schools and museums.

“Even if your home is far from the risk of flooding or forest fires, you may not so easily escape the systemic impacts from vulnerable critical infrastructure that sometimes extends hundreds of miles,” said Jesse Keenan, a climate-change and real-estate expert at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Author(s): Leslie Kaufman, Rachael Dottle, Mira Rojanasakul

Publication Date: 11 October 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg

Here’s the Gender Pay Gap at 10,000 U.K. Employers

Link:https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2021-uk-gender-pay-gap/

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Excerpt:

Women in finance in the U.K. still make significantly less than men. While the gender pay gap at financial firms in the country narrowed slightly last year, overall the industry continues to have the biggest disparity.

Men working in finance and insurance made 25% more than women last year, down from 28% in 2019, a Bloomberg News analysis of government data shows. The pay gap is especially wide in investment banking, where some of the highest-paid employees work.

It is the fourth straight year that finance has led the industry rankings, showing that executives are finding it difficult to shrink the gap. Mining and quarrying had the second-biggest pay gap at 23% as the commodity boom boosted the income of workers, who are largely male.

Author(s): Neil Callahan

Publication Date: 6 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg

Allstate to Sell Chicago-Area HQ in Embrace of Remote Work

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-10-08/allstate-to-sell-chicago-hq-as-insurer-embraces-remote-work

Excerpt:

Allstate Corp. plans to sell its headquarters building, marking the U.S. finance industry’s firmest endorsement yet of the desire to offer hybrid work after the pandemic. 

With many employees choosing to work remotely, the insurance giant will sell its offices in Northbrook, Illinois, according to an emailed statement Friday. The complex in a Chicago suburb has several buildings that total 1.9 million square feet on a 186-acre (75 hectares), Allstate has said in regulatory filings.

Author(s): May Reyes

Publication Date: 8 Oct 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg

Wall Street’s Shift South Runs Into Texas, Florida Culture Wars

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-10-05/wall-street-s-shift-south-runs-into-texas-florida-culture-wars

Excerpt:

Wall Street’s three biggest municipal-bond underwriters have seen business grind to a halt in Texas after the state blocked governments from working with banks that have curtailed gun-industry ties. In June, as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was on the hunt for a new campus in Dallas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott took a shot at ESG initiatives by banning state investments in businesses that cut ties with oil and gas companies.

That’s not to mention the brawls over Covid vaccines and mask mandates, deadly Texas blackouts along the country’s most isolated power grid and new state laws that restrict voting and all but ban abortion. It’s all happening just as Wall Street’s shareholders push the industry to fight climate change, racism and the gender gap.

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So far, most big banks haven’t taken public positions on the new abortion restrictions. They’re being cautious about requiring Covid-19 vaccinations for employees in places where officials have assailed mandates. But the new Texas gun law is running into both the industry’s efforts to advance social causes and its ability to work with the second-largest state for muni-bond issuance. 

JPMorgan Chase & Co. — which has 25,500 Texas employees, its most in any state outside New York — has said it can’t bid on most business with public entities in Texas because of ambiguities around the law. The biggest U.S. bank is assessing its potential next steps, said a person with knowledge of the company’s thinking. 

Author(s): Max Abelson, Amanda Albright

Publication Date: 5 October 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg

Wall Street Links to Pennsylvania Pension Fund Probed by SEC

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-29/wall-street-links-to-pennsylvania-pension-fund-probed-by-sec

Excerpt:

A $66 billion Pennsylvania state pension fund under scrutiny for errors in calculating investment returns has been asked by securities regulators to turn over records related to possible gifts exchanges with dozens of Wall Street firms, according to a subpoena reviewed by Bloomberg.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issued the subpoena Sept. 24 to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System, demanding information about the fund’s dealings with firms including Blackstone Inc.The Carlyle Group Inc.Morgan StanleyApollo Global Management Inc. and consultant Hamilton Lane Advisors

SEC Enforcement Division Senior Counsel Heidi Mitza asked that the pension fund supply “all Documents and Communications Concerning any compensation, remuneration, money, gifts, gratuities, trips or anything of any value” exchanged between representatives of investment managers, advisers, and consultants and any representatives of PSERS or the state, according to the subpoena. 

Author(s): Neil Weinberg

Publication Date: 29 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg

China Property Fear Spreads Beyond Evergrande, Roiling Markets

Link: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/hong-kong-stocks-sink-evergrande-023055601.html

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Excerpt:

Growing investor angst about China’s real estate crackdown rippled through markets on Monday, adding pressure on Xi Jinping’s government to prevent financial contagion from destabilizing the world’s second-largest economy.

Hong Kong real estate giants including Henderson Land Development Co. suffered the biggest selloff in more than a year as traders speculated China will extend its property clampdown to the financial hub. Intensifying concerns about China Evergrande Group’s debt crisis dragged down everything from bank stocks to Ping An Insurance Group Co. and high-yield dollar bonds. One little-known Chinese property developer plunged 87% before shares were halted.

Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index slumped 3.3%, its biggest loss since late July. The selling also spilled over into the Hong Kong dollar, offshore yuan and S&P 500 Index futures. Holiday closures in much of Asia may have exacerbated the volatility, traders said.

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“The repercussions from Evergrande’s prospective collapse will likely contribute to China’s ongoing economic deceleration, which in turn anchors global growth and inflation, and casts a pall over commodity prices,” wrote analysts led by Phoenix Kalen, head of emerging-market strategy in London.

Author(s): Catherine Ngai and Ishika Mookerjee

Publication Date: 20 September 2021

Publication Site: Yahoo Finance

Virginia Public Pensions Make a Direct Bet on Cryptocurrencies

Link: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/virginia-public-pensions-direct-bet-163646280.html

Excerpt:

The Fairfax County Police Officers Retirement System and Fairfax County Employees’ Retirement System are planning to invest, pending board approvals, a total of $50 million in Parataxis Capital Management LLC’s main fund, which buys various digital tokens and cryptocurrency derivatives.

The outlays come on the heels of the Fairfax funds — which together manage about $7.15 billion — investing several times in Morgan Creek Asset Management funds, and, earlier this year, in crypto venture firm Blockchain Capital. While some of these investments ended up going into coins like Bitcoin, the majority was invested into technology startups, so Fairfax considered them venture-capital investments. Parataxis, with its focus on actual coins, is different.

….

But that same volatility can lead to outsized returns, which have been one reason for Fairfax’s expanded investment. Molnar’s $1.95 billion police retirement fund was planning for 2% exposure to crypto via Morgan Creek and Blockchain Capital, but at the end of June crypto accounted for 7% of assets, due to appreciation, she said. Although Molnar couldn’t discuss exact appreciation, crypto “was not an insignificant contributor to performance” in the second quarter, she said.

Author(s): Olga Kharif

Publication Date: 10 September 2021

Publication Site: Yahoo Finance

SALT Cap Confounds House Democrats Crafting Taxes for Biden Plan

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-09/salt-cap-confounds-house-democrats-crafting-taxes-for-biden-plan?sref=H58UC22s

Excerpt:

House Democrats continue to search for a way to satisfy lawmakers who want to scrap the deduction limit on state and local taxes without losing progressives wary of a tax cut that would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy.

The budget blueprint Democrats passed this summer instructs lawmakers to include some form of SALT cap relief in a tax-and-spend plan of up to $3.5 trillion.

A full repeal would be costly and politically difficult to pass with razor-thin margins in both chambers. But a coalition of lawmakers from New York, New Jersey, and other states with high tax rates continue to insist that is what it will take for them to back the legislation.

…..

Suozzi is one of the leaders of the “SALT Caucus”, an alliance of more than 30 lawmakers who want to roll back the $10,000 deduction limit established in the Republican-led 2017 tax law. While they argue that the cap unfairly targets Democrat-dominated states and encourages people to move to Florida and other low-tax states, progressives counter that expanding the deduction shouldn’t be a priority in a social spending bill because the lion’s share of the benefit would go to the wealthy.

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That [2019] bill passed the House, but 16 Democrats voted against it, including New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has described a full repeal as a “gift to billionaires.” Democratic leadership is dealing with a much narrower majority this Congress and can’t afford to lose that many votes with no Republicans expected to support the reconciliation package.

Author(s): Kaustuv Basu

Publication Date: 9 September 2021

Publication Site: Bloomberg