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.
Tuesday will be the 10th anniversary of a state legislative landmark: the creation of a new public-pension “tier” reining in the explosive cost of state- and local-government retirement benefits in New York.
While Tier 6 wasn’t the “bold and transformational” breakthrough touted by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2012, it was a solid net positive for taxpayers, building on incremental changes in the Tier 5 pension reform enacted two years earlier. (Tiers 5 and 6 cover most occupations other than police and firefighters, who belong to other pension plans modified in different ways by the same legislation.)
The reforms have saved billions of taxpayer dollars for the state and local governments over the past decade — including $1 billion this year alone — plus significant added savings for New York City’s separate pension systems.
The state’s well-fed public-sector unions tried to block pension changes at every turn. Now, under the slogan “Fix Tier 6,” they’re pushing the Legislature to roll back pension reform as part of the budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1.
The “fix” sought by the 200,000-member Civil Service Employees Association and other government unions is a return to the state’s enriched pre-2010 pension plans, which (among other sweeteners) required no employee pension-fund contributions after 10 years and allowed for early retirement on full pensions as early as age 55 after a minimum 30 years of service.
Residents and business owners in the Finger Lakes region have been protesting for more than a year against a natural gas plant that has powered a bitcoin mining operation in the area. But the plant’s future faces even greater peril from the state as critics and officials say it flies in the face of an ambitious new state law designed to cut down on carbon emissions.
Since spring 2020, the Greenidge Generation power plant in Dresden, New York has powered a 24-7 bitcoin mining operation, wherein computer servers solve complex algorithms to collect electronic currency. It now supports nearly 20,000 computers that last year produced 1,866 bitcoins with a projected revenue of more than $100 million. The endeavor was so profitable that the company plans to double their computing power and increase power generation close to maximum capacity.
But Greenidge’s red brick smokestacks and metal transformers have long been at odds with the pristine vistas and vineyards of the Finger Lakes. Formerly a coal plant that shuttered in 2011, its revival is once again endangering the region environmentally and economically, according to some residents.
It’s also at odds with New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which mandates a reduction of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and no less than 85% by 2050 from 1990 levels. And the conflict between the state’s climate goals and a burgeoning new industry reflects a growing tension nationally between the fight against climate change and the energy-intensive pursuit of mining for cryptocurrency.
The recent op-ed in Crain’s New York Business by former City Comptrollers Jay Goldin and Elizabeth Holtzman (“Affordable housing initiative worked in the past and can work again today”) recalled a city pension fund program, initiated in 1983, that was specifically designed to finance the renovation of deteriorated rental apartment buildings in lower income neighborhoods. Supported by New York State mortgage insurance, the pension investments financed the restoration of a wide range of apartment buildings and worked uniquely well for small buildings with owners of limited resources. Two percent of the pension funds’ assets were committed for long-term, fixed-rate mortgages, with an interest rate priced at the market, with a two-year rate lock while the capital improvements were made.
Recognizing that these buildings would need some public subsidy—and that many owners lacked the experience to deal with complex government processing—a system evolved whereby these investments were coupled with streamlined city subsidy programs. The program’s goal: to restore a building’s physical and economic health while keeping its apartments affordable.
The pension funds filled a critical gap as most conventional long-term lenders viewed this market as too complicated and too unprofitable. For many years after its inception, the Community Preservation Corporation was the primary user of the program, using its “one-stop-shop” to originate construction loans for predominantly small properties. Upon construction completion, the long-term mortgage was provided by the pension funds. Over time, other banks were approved to originate loans for the funds, with their focus mainly on financing the renovation of larger buildings.
Fourth, the pension funds should recommit to investing up to 2 percent of their assets (now $5 billion) for long-term financing at a market rate, insured by the State Mortgage Insurance Fund. In the long history of the program, the funds have experienced no losses, the state insurance fund covering the few losses that had occurred.
Efficient implementation can minimize the use of public funds and provide a large pool of fixed-rate, long-term financing for these properties. Doing so is within the purview of the city’s comptroller and the pension fund trustees.
New York State’s top pension official has asked streaming music platform Spotify Technology SA for details about the effectiveness of its new content rules, citing complaints including that podcaster Joe Rogan has spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees funds that hold Spotify shares, requested the report in a letter sent to Spotify Chief Executive Daniel Ek on Feb. 2, which was shown to Reuters.
The letter also urged Spotify to give users an easy mechanism to report content that could violate its rules, and to define how its board oversees content risks and enforcement.
DiNapoli cited reports of Spotify hosting content that has included COVID-19 misinformation, and racist and antisemitic material. Prominent rock musician Neil Young last month left the platform last month because he said Rogan has misled people about vaccines, followed by other stars.
The two zip codes encompassing this region — 11224 and 11235 — have experienced 75 deaths per 100,000 people over the last month, a fatality rate nearly three times the citywide average. The pair of zip codes ranked only behind East New York when it came to the pace of COVID deaths between December 24th and January 20th, while their hospitalization rates were also among the highest in the city.
These two zip codes in southern Brooklyn also have lower vaccination coverage than the city as a whole, a common thread between most of the places hit hardest this winter. The area is averaging 66% full vaccination, compared with 75% citywide. In adjacent Gravesend, fewer than two-thirds of residents are fully vaccinated, and meanwhile, some parts of the city are approaching universal coverage.
Hospital leaders said undervaccination is having an outsized effect on these oceanside communities because the area’s demographics make residents prone to severe illness from COVID-19. In Brighton Beach and Coney Island, 26% of residents are over the age of 65, compared with about 14% in the borough as a whole. Many of those elderly residents also have underlying health conditions.
Citywide, 89% of New Yorkers between ages 65 to 74 are fully vaccinated, but the rate drops to 63% for people older than 85. Municipal data also show coverage varies by region and by other demographics. For instance, just 62% of white seniors in the Bronx are fully vaccinated, and only 65% of Black seniors in Brooklyn.
Beginning Monday, at the order of Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, every business in the state was required by law to have every employee and customer show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, or make everyone inside their doors over the age of 2 wear a mask.
Violators face fines of up to $1,000. Enforcement is being left to county governments, of which an estimated one-quarter—almost all run by Republicans—have indicated they will not participate in.
The two-shot vaccination rate for New Yorkers ages 12 and older currently stands at 81 percent. Six months ago, when Hochul’s predecessor Andrew Cuomo lifted almost all statewide COVID restrictions, he did so because the Empire State had crossed the 70 percent threshold set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—not for full vaccination of everyone over age 12, mind you, but for single shots among adults.
Contra Hochul, it is far from clear that even 100 percent vaccination would have prevented a third consecutive winter surge across the northeast, which currently has the highest rates of vaccination and coronavirus cases in the United States.
The Tier 5 and Tier 6 changes combined are saving New York state and local governments outside New York City more than $1 billion this year.
After record-busting investment returns in 2021, most of the state’s public pension plans report they are fully funded—but adjusting for financial risk, their combined unfunded liabilities still total nearly $400 billion.
The traditional defined-benefit pension system remains biased in favor of career and long-term employees, to the disadvantage of those who work shorter government careers.
The New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) will invest $2 billion in an index focused on reducing the risks of climate change and capitalizing on the opportunities arising from the transition to a low-carbon economy, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the fund, announced today. This is part of the Comptroller’s Climate Action Plan announced in 2019 and his goal for the Fund of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
The Fund will allocate $2 billion within its internally managed public equity portfolio to FTSE Russell’s Russell 1000 TPI Climate Transition Index (CTI) in connection with the Fund’s Sustainable Investment & Climate Solutions (SICS) program.
Author(s): Thomas DiNapoli
Publication Date: 9 Dec 2021
Publication Site: Office of the NY State Comptroller