Seven hundred and forty-four million dollars. That is the amount of Wall Street fees paid by the Maryland state pension plan for investment advice in fiscal 2021.
Over the past 10 years, the fees totaled roughly $4.5 billion, or about 15 percent of the plan’s earnings. For that kind of money, you would think the state gets only the prime stock and bond picks from its advisers, but, during that time, Maryland, as with most other states, failed to beat the returns of a simple 60 percent stocks/40 percent bonds index. Many large institutional investors, including public pension plans, use this 60/40 index as a barometer to gauge their portfolios’ results. They structure their portfolios to avoid a 100 percent exposure to the sometimes volatile stock market. If their results are better than the index for a given year, they claim success. Many mutual funds attract smaller individual retail and 401(k) retirement accounts by copying the index and charging low fees for passive management.
This drainage damages the financial security of public workers in Maryland and other states, and it forces greater taxpayer contributions to the plans. The ongoing situation has a secondary effect as well: The massive wealth transfer — from public workers and average taxpayers — to a small coterie of Wall Street money managers fosters a new plutocracy, successful at obscuring the problem and blocking reform.
The obvious fix for public plans is to shift from expensive fee investments to low-fee indexing, a tactic endorsed by none other than Warren Buffett, the noted value investor and philanthropist. For large public plans, including Maryland’s, this shift, if implemented, would be gradual. Extricating the fund from its long-term contractual commitments and replacing them with passive investments is going to take time.
When CalPERS does something as obviously nonsensical as planning to dump $6 billion of its private equity holdings, nearly 13% of its $47.7 billon portfolio, when it just committed to increasing its private equity book from 8% to 13%, it’s a hard call: Incompetent? Corrupt? Addled by the latest fads (a subset of incompetent)?
And rest assured, the harder you look, the more it becomes apparent that this scheme is as hare-brained as it appears at the 30,000 foot level. But unlike another recent hare-brained private equity scheme, its “private equity new business model,” beneficiaries won’t have the good luck of having it collapse under its own contradictions. CalPERS has loudly announced that Jeffries & Co. will be handling these dispositions, so they will get done….at least in part. But the fact that CalPERS’ staff has gone ahead and merely informed the board, as opposed to getting its approval, is yet another proof of how the board has abdicated its oversight and control by granting unconscionably permissive “delegated authority” to staff.
The one bit of possible upside would not just be unintended, but the result of CalPERS acting in contradiction to its expressed objectives: that its allocation to private equity would undershoot its targets by an even bigger margin than otherwise.
A new analysis shows the city of San Diego’s pension system is in strong financial shape compared to similar systems across the state and the nation.
While the city’s pension debt is nearly $3 billion, most pension systems face similar gaps between their investment assets and long-term projections of what they will owe employees when those employees eventually retire.
The comparative analysis, which was presented to the city’s pension board Friday, shows that San Diego has been in the top half of the nation’s largest 175 pension systems for “funded ratio” every year since 2013.
And the city’s ratio, which just climbed from 70.2 percent to 74.3 percent thanks to the robust stock market, has been in the top quarter of those national pension systems several times in recent years.
The city’s pension system, formally known as the San Diego City Employees Retirement System, also has among the most conservative policies regarding projections of long-term investment returns.
San Diego’s projected rate of long-term investment growth is 6.5 percent, which is at the very low end of the group of 175 pension systems.
California’s two biggest pension funds have invested a staggering $43 billion in fossil fuel companies, and their opposition to divesting from the industry — including fighting legislation that would have stopped them investing in firms involved with the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) — has cost retirees and taxpayers billions, research shows.
The findings hammer home the fact that the divestment movement isn’t just about protecting the planet from the worst effects of climate change. With the oil, gas, and coal industries all on the decline, pension funds’ refusal to divest from fossil fuels is also endangering the retirement savings of teachers, government employees, and other rank-and-file public workers who have paid into these funds.
While it is common knowledge that fossil fuel stocks have underperformed the broader stock market, large bank stocks have been lackluster as well — including the banks that helped finance DAPL.
If CalPERS and CalSTRS had not opposed the original DAPL divestment legislation, they could have instead put pressure on the companies involved not to move forward with the pipeline, and such efforts might have been enough to stop the project, given the pipeline project’s turbulent history.
Two top officials at Pennsylvania’s largest pension fund are retiring amid a federal investigation and calls by some board members for their ouster.
The board of Pennsylvania’s $64 billion Public School Employees’ Retirement System voted Thursday to approve resolutions accepting the retirement of Glen Grell, the executive director, and Jim Grossman, the chief investment officer. Board members approved plans for both men to stay on in temporary advisory positions and authorized the board chair to begin a search for their replacements.
The fund has been racked by turmoil since board members learned in March that a report of investment returns was too high. The accurate figure was low enough to trigger an increase in payments from employees that the plan serves. Investigations conducted by the fund haven’t found wrongdoing on the part of investment staff.
The board said in April that it had hired law firms to investigate the miscalculation and to respond to a federal grand jury subpoena requesting documents. The pension declined to comment on what information the grand jury is seeking.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) is now expected to hit full funding in 2041, five years ahead of last year’s prediction of reaching that level in 2046, according to a presentation from CalSTRS Deputy System Actuary David Lamoureux at the fund’s most recent board meeting on Friday. Additionally, board members anticipate that CalSTRS will hit 80% funding in 2024, 10 years ahead of schedule.
The timeline shift is due to the unexpectedly high 27% return CalSTRS earned in the most recent year. The CalSTRS board plans to release the excess funds from this year’s record return over the course of three years. This means that this year, only one-third of the excess funds will be used to alleviate the funded rate. “Because of that, our funding levels will improve, but they will improve slowly over time,” Lamoureux said at the board meeting.
TCRS made $13.6 billion in fiscal 2021; a record high in earnings that put the balance of TCRS’ investments at $65.3 billion. In fiscal 2020, the system had a 4.94% return and finished the fiscal year with a balance of $53.4 billion. The Tennessee Department of Treasury said that return outearned its peers by four times the median 1.2% return during the fiscal year.
“When retirement plans around the nation are under scrutiny for their performance, TCRS is thriving,” Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard said. “Our Governor and General Assembly ensure the plan is fully funded every year. The Tennessee Department of Treasury strives to be good stewards of the state’s financial resources. This $13.6 billion in investment income is evidence of our commitment to both active and retired members of the TCRS pension plan.”
State retirement systems in America improved from last year, but are still Fragile.
This an annual report on the current status of statewide public pension systems, put into a historic context. State and local governments face a wide range of challenges in general – and some of the largest are growing and unpredictable pension costs. The scale and effects of these challenges are best understood by considering the multi-decade financial trends and funding policy decisions that have brought public sector retirement systems to this moment.
The financial market volatility over the past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic has ultimately been a positive investment climate for institutional investors like state pension plans. And the federal government has provided substantial financial aid to states and municipalities, smoothing over what could have been seismic budgetary shortfalls in some jurisdictions due to tax revenue declines. The combined historically unprecedented nature of these events continues to create an unpredictable environment for state pension plans. However, in this report Equable uses patterns of behavior from the past two decades as a guide to what might happen in the coming decade while also a means to identify areas of concern that should be monitored closely or acted upon immediately.
This paper introduces a real-time, continuous measure of national sentiment that is language-free and thus comparable globally: the positivity of songs that individuals choose to listen to. This is a direct measure of mood that does not pre-specify certain mood-affecting events nor assume the extent of their impact on investors. We validate our music-based sentiment measure by correlating it with mood swings induced by seasonal factors, weather conditions, and COVID-related restrictions. We find that music sentiment is positively correlated with same-week equity market returns and negatively correlated with next-week returns, consistent with sentiment-induced temporary mispricing. Results also hold under a daily analysis and are stronger when trading restrictions limit arbitrage. Music sentiment also predicts increases in net mutual fund flows, and absolute sentiment precedes a rise in stock market volatility. It is negatively associated with government bond returns, consistent with a flight to safety.
Alex Edmans London Business School – Institute of Finance and Accounting; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
Adrian Fernandez-Perez Auckland University of Technology
Alexandre Garel Audencia Business School
Ivan Indriawan Auckland University of Technology – Department of Finance
Publication Date: 14 Aug 2021
Publication Site: SSRN, Journal of Financial Economics (forthcoming)
According to a lawsuit filed this week by Tobe, the pension denied most of his requests for records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. It’s no secret that state and local government pensions—which are supposed to be the most transparent of all pensions—are regularly criticized for opposing public record requests, particularly related to alternative investment documents.
The report accuses the pension of failing to monitor and fully disclose investment fees and expenses. It is estimated that fees and expenses could be 10 times greater than the $7.4 million disclosed in the pension’s most recent financial audit. Tobe believes the fees related to dozens of investment managers are not properly disclosed. Using assumptions from an Oxford study, Tobe estimated that undisclosed fees could be as high as $70 million a year. Also, $2 million to $3 million a year in investment fees may have been paid to Wall Street for doing nothing, i.e., fees on committed, uninvested capital.
Most analysts attribute the strong market performance to historically low interest rates and an unprecedented $5 trillion in federal stimulus in response to the pandemic. In addition, the economy is now recovering at a rapid pace, with recent projections by the Congressional Budget Office, Moody’s, and the Federal Reserve forecasting a return to pre-pandemic levels of gross domestic product by calendar year 2022 or before.3
However, the path to recovery remains uncertain, and the long-term forecast for economic growth and pension investment returns is less rosy. The Congressional Budget Office expects average real economic growth of 1.6% between 2026 and 2031 and nominal growth of 3.7% over the same time frame—significantly lower than the historical average.4 As such, market experts now estimate equity returns, which are related to economic growth and current market value of stocks, to be 6.4% over the long term, compared with 6.7% before the pandemic.5 And with interest rates currently lower than pre-pandemic levels, they also project bonds to yield just 2% over the next decade before returning to the pre-pandemic expected yield of about 4%.6
Despite having the most heavily staffed and luxuriously paid investment office of any public pension fund, CalPERS scored the worst investment returns of any of 34 funds tracked by Pensions & Investments.
As you can see at the Pensions & Investments site, CalPERS return for fiscal year 2020-2021 was 21.3%. The next lowest was tiny Kern County, more than two and a half points higher, at 23.9%. CalPERS’ Sacramento sister CalSTRS delivered 27.8%. The stars were Texas County, at 33.7&. New York Common, at 33.6%. San Bernardino County, at 33.3%, Oklahoma Teachers, at 33%, and Oklahoma Firefighters at 31.8%. Mississippi PERS came it at 32.7%, but that was gross of fees. Nevertheless, five funds earned a full 10% in investment returns more than CalPERS, and the pension fund arguably the most similar to CalPERS in terms of scale did more that 6% better.
That extreme laggard result also fell short of CalPERS benchmark of 21.7%. Recall that investment expert Richard Ennis explained at length that public pension funds and their consultants devise their own benchmarks, and they not surprisingly wind up being unduly forgiving
An earlier paper by Ennis found that even though nearly all public pension funds generated negative alpha, as in they actively destroyed value, CalPERS was one of the worst, coming in at number 43 out of 46, with a stunning negative alpha of 2.4%.