On the eve of President Joe Biden’s virtual climate change summit with approximately 40 other world leaders and the fifty-first anniversary of Earth Day, a new alliance of 160 financial institutions was formed to achieve net zero by 2050 or sooner.
The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) consists of three separate groups representing different sectors of the financial universe — the Net Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), comprising 43 banks from 23 countries including Bank of America, Citi and Morgan Stanley in the U.S.; the Net Zero Asset Managers Alliance of 87 firms, including BlackRock, Vanguard, Allianz Global Advisors, Invesco and State Street Global Advisors and Trillium Asset Management, which joined Wednesday; and the 37-member UN-Convened Net Zero Owners Alliance, which includes the David Rockefeller Fund and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).
Let’s look at other reasons why allowing CalPERS to make secret loans is a terrible idea.
CalPERS and CalSTRS are already major investors in private debt, via private debt funds, so AB 386 is unnecessary.CalPERS is already #16 in the world and CalSTRS, #30. Both giant funds have demonstrated that California’s disclosure laws aren’t an impediment to making this kind of investment. It should not be surprising that no other California public pension fund is supporting this bill.
There’s no good reason to create an internal team to do private debt investing. Plenty of experts have been urging large private equity investors like CalPERS to bring private equity investing in house for years. First, the fees and costs are so eye-popping, at an estimated 7% per year, that cutting that down to say 2% or 3% means that a relatively newbie investor like CalPERS could still fall a bit short compared to industry average gross returns and still come out ahead on a net basis. Second, industry experts also confirm that there are many seasoned, skilled professional who would trade a less pressured life (particularly the costs and stresses that relate to regular fundraising) for less lavish pay.
As you can see from the embedded filing below, CalPERS is suing Gloria Najera, a former employee it says embezzled $685,000 from beneficiaries, including, Wells Fargo style, from a beneficiary’s bank accounts.
The civil claim is sketchy on the timetable, but Najera was a clerical worker responsible for updating beneficiary addresses and bank direct deposit information. That apparently also gave her access to at least the last four digits in their Social Security numbers. Najera used this information to pilfer directly from the bank account of one beneficiary to the tune of nearly $69,000. For nine others, she diverted funds from dormant CalPERS accounts (where CalPERS had reason to think the beneficiary was still alive but had only out-of-date bank deposit information) to bank accounts controlled by Najera and co-conspirators.
Yet despite CalPERS allegedly informing the police about the theft back in January, the perp of this huge embezzlement of beneficiary trust funds hasn’t even been arrested, much the less charged.
CalPERS instead is taking the virtually unheard of approach of merely filing a civil suit, rather than letting a prosecutor file criminal charges, even though California law requires that a criminal court order full restitution on behalf of CalPERS.
California’s total estimated pension liability is something like $1 trillion. To balance its books, Sacramento had to get money from taxpayers in Florida, South Dakota, Utah and, other, better-managed states (through the COVID-19 stimulus) to close the gap.
Whether it will be enough to stop municipal fire departments from bringing private ambulance and medical services “in-house” is yet to be seen. Hopefully, it will — which would be a good thing for taxpayers and people in need.
Otherwise, the pattern of using federal reimbursements for services provided to cover the losses in underfunded public employee pension plans will continue, much to the determinant of taxpayers.
Saying he wanted to boost portfolio returns, California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) investment committee member Jason Perez made a second try at reversing the pension plan’s ban on tobacco stocks. But Perez’s proposal was overwhelmingly rejected Monday night.
At a meeting of the CalPERS investment committee, Perez’s new attempt—his first was in March 2019—attracted only one other vote on the 13-member panel, from Margaret Brown. The ban has been in place since 2001.
The $440 billion pension system would have earned an additional $3.6 billion in investment gains if it kept tobacco stocks in its portfolio between Jan. 1, 2001, and June 30, 2020, according to an analysis by Wilshire Associates, a CalPERS general investment consultant.
As you can see below, CalPERS issued more ultimatums: drop the suit and provide what amounts to a document retention request to the board member that provided his notes to Jelincic.
And why should Jelincic withdraw his case? The argument is the legal version of a pratfall. Jelincic told he is liable for “aiding and abetting” an alleged breach of fiduciary duty by a a board member and interfering with CalPERS’ contract with said board member.
First “aiding and abetting” exists only in a criminal context. Even if there were actually a there there, please tell me what universe a prosecutor is going to saddle up to go after a CalPERS board member over a dispute over a clearly improperly noticed board meeting….and charge Jelincic too?
Second, the only fiduciary duty the board has is to beneficiaries. The reason California has such strong transparency laws is that its default is that secrecy is bad for the public and is not allowed unless there are compelling arguments on the other side.
One way to put a quick sheen on pension funds’ balance sheets is to issue municipal bonds at a lower rate of interest than the pension fund is expected to earn. These “pension obligation bonds” (POBs) have a long and checkered history. The first one was sold tax-exempt by the city of Oakland, Calif., in 1985. It stirred up a hornet’s nest at the IRS, which quickly realized that the lower tax-exempt interest rate was subsidized by Uncle Sam in a no-brainer for the pension fund that in theory could just invest in taxable bonds to make a profit, even without risking money in stocks. Congress was prodded to prohibit the use of tax-exempt debt where there is a profit-seeking investment “nexus,” and thus was born a thick book of IRS “arbitrage” regulations. Consequently, POBs must now be taxable, with a higher interest cost.
When interest rates are low, as they are today, the underwriters and many financial consultants come out of the woodwork to pitch their POB deals. The lure is always the same: “Over 30 years, you will save money because history shows it’s almost a certainty that stocks will outperform low bond yields,” even if they are now taxable. I’ve written extensively on the foreseeable cyclical risks of selling POBs when the stock market is trading at record high levels: The underwriters and deal-peddlers will sneak away with their fees from the deal, and public officials will be left holding the bag whenever an economic recession or stock-market plunge drives the value of their pension funds’ “new” assets below the level of their outstanding POBs. The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has long opposed POBs for this reason, among others. POBs make sense to me only when they are issued in recessionary bear markets.
Now, a former CalPERS board member and investment officer has filed a lawsuit demanding that the pension system turn over transcripts, recordings, and notes from a closed-door board meeting held on August 17 allegedly to discuss the Meng affair. Meng resigned on August 5.
J.J. Jelincic’s lawsuit, filed on March 8 in Alameda County Superior Court in Northern California, said the board discussed Meng’s resignation at the meeting and violated the state’s open meetings law.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the CalPERS board’s Governance Committee is scheduled to discuss and possibly approve a plan that would require the full 13-member pension system board to be notified when a top system official is under internal investigation because of possible wrongdoing.
California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS)1 and State Board of Administration (SBA) of Florida2, the largest and fifth-largest public pension funds in the US, have publicly disclosed that they have voted FOR Effissimo Capital Management’s shareholder proposal to conduct an independent investigation of Toshiba Corporation’s (TYO: 6502) 2020 Annual General Meeting (AGM).
SBA Florida cited three reasons for its supportive vote: “Conflicted review process; Insufficient resolution of outstanding concerns; Reasonably proportionate request.”
The votes by prominent institutional shareholders of Toshiba follow earlier disclosure by California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the second-largest public pension fund in the US, that it was voting FOR Effissimo’s proposal.
We seem to be returning to a semblance of the old normal, including CalPERS getting well-deserved public attention for its bad behavior, highlighted in a new lawsuit filed by former board member JJ Jelicic, which we’ve embedded at the end of this post. It’s short and very readable; slightly more than half the pages of the PDF are exhibits.
CalPERS under its general counsel Matt Jacobs has more and more openly been taking the position that it is above the law. A slapdown is long overdue.
Both of the matters the lawsuit targets are strong on legal and public interest grounds. We’ll get into a bit more detail below. The short overview is that they come out of sweeping and highly dubious denials of two different Public Records Act requests that Jelinicic submitted. One focuses on to impermissible secret board discussions shortly after then Chief Investment Officer Ben Meng’s sudden resignation last August. The second involves CalPERS’ continuing efforts to hide records showing how it came to overvalue real estate assets by $583 million. Yet CalPERS not only has said nary a peep about bogus valuations are larger than the total amount it was slotted to invest in a mothballed solo development project, 301 Capitol Mall, but it continues to publish balance sheets that include the inflated results.
However, there is no significant budgetary reform in the offing, and California’s cities and counties feel no compunction to address the issue. In fact, these days several municipalities are taking steps that will ultimately serve to exacerbate the shortfall by bringing in all of their emergency services “in house,” rather than contracting out emergency services to a private entity.
The rationale typically given for such steps is that doing ambulance and fire services completely in house helps coordinate emergency responses and creates efficiencies, improving services and saving them money.
However, such efforts rarely manage to help towns—or the state, for that matter—to save money. Contracting out ambulance services is typically done by smaller communities that don’t have the demand to support a full-time ambulance crew, which can be expensive—a tricked-out ambulance alone costs over $150,000. Combining with another nearby community generates economies of scale.
California state employee retirements jumped 15% last year, as employees dealing with pandemic-related stress chose to leave the workforce, a pension fund spokesperson with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) confirmed.
About 12,300 state workers in the state retirement system retired last year, up from roughly 10,700 the year prior, according to CalPERS data, which was first reported on by the Sacramento Bee. It’s a major spike from the prior two-year period, when state retirements fell 1.8% from 2018 to 2019.
Overall, retirements in the entire CalPERS system—which includes state workers, as well as public agency employees and non-teaching school personnel—increased just 4% in 2020, data shows. The prior year, the number of retirements in the whole pension fund fell 1.4%.