What risks do the more aggressive investment strategies pursued by private equity-controlled insurers present to policyholders?
What risks do lending and other shadow-bank activities pursued by companies that also own or control significant amounts of life insurance-related assets pose to policyholders?
Are there risks to the broader economy related to investment strategies, lending, and other shadow-bank activities pursued by these companies?
In cases of pension risk transfer arrangements, what is the impact on protections for pension plan beneficiaries if plans are terminated and replaced with lump-sum payouts or annuity contracts? Specifically, how are protections related to ERISA and PBGC insurance affected in these cases?
Given that many private equity firms and asset managers are not public companies, what risks to transparency arise from the transfer of insurance obligations to these firms? Will retirees and the public have visibility into the investment strategies of the firms they are relying on for their retirements?
Are state regulatory regimes capable of assessing and managing the risks related to the more complex structures and investment strategies of private equity-controlled insurance companies or obligations? If not, how can FIO work with state regulators to aid in the assessment and management of these risks?
The BACV of total cash and invested assets for PE-owned insurers was about 6% of the U.S. insurance industry’s $8.0 trillion at year-end 2021, down slightly from 6.5% of total cash and invested assets at year-end 2020. The number of PE-owned insurers, however, increased to 132 in 2021 from 117 in 2020, but they were about 3% of the total number of legal entity insurers at both year-end 2021 and year-end 2020.
Consistent with prior years, U.S. insurers have been identified as PE-owned via a manual process. That is, the NAIC Capital Markets Bureau identifies PE-owned insurers to be those who reported any percentage of ownership by a PE firm in Schedule Y, and other means of identification such as using third-party sources, including directly from state regulators. As such, the number of U.S. insurers that are PE-owned continues to evolve.1 Life companies continue to account for a significant proportion of PE-owned insurer investments at year-end 2021, at 95% of total cash and invested assets (see Table 1). This represents a small decrease from 97% at year-end 2020 (see Table 2). Notwithstanding, there was a slight increase in PE-owned insurer investments for property/casualty (P/C) companies, to 4% at year-end 2021, compared to 3% the prior year. In addition, there was also a small increase in total BACV for PE-owned title and health companies’ investments, at about $1.1 billion at year-end 2021, compared to under $1 billion at yearend 2020.
Author(s): Jennifer Johnson and Jean-Baptiste Carelus
Publication Date: 19 Sept 2022
Publication Site: NAIC Special Capital Markets Reports
If you followed the saga of the route to passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, you already know that a last-minute maneuver by Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema torpedoed a provision in the Senate compromise bill that would have finally closed the so-called “carried interest loophole.” That’s where savvy real-estate financiers and managers of private partnerships such as hedge funds and private equity deals are able to cut their income taxes as much as 40 percent by masquerading their compensation as a capital gain that enjoys much lower income tax rates.
Public pension funds, public employees and their associations need to put a stop to this, and they have both the moral high ground and the clout to do so. It’s high time for political and financial blowback. The PR firms orchestrating this nonsense will just keep it up until their profiteering clients get called out.
The reality is that if the fund managers had to pay standard tax rates on their income, it would have zero impact on pension systems’ returns. What are the managers going to do? Cook up fewer deals? Pull up stakes and move to a tax haven? Demand even higher fees on top of their already cushy income? They can huff and puff all they want, but pensioners would lose nothing if the loophole were plugged.
The New York State Common Retirement Fund has reported a 9.51% investment return for fiscal year 2022, while the New York City Retirement System reported an annual preliminary loss of 8.65% among its five pension funds.
However, the fiscal year for the state’s pension ended March 31, while the city’s pension funds ended their fiscal year June 30, after a quarter during which global markets tumbled and the S&P 500 fell by more than 16%.
The portfolio’s alternative investments buoyed the pension fund’s returns, which raised the portfolio’s asset value to $272.1 billion as of March 31. Private equity returned 37.57% for the year, while the fund’s real estate investments and real assets returned 27.4% and 16.12% respectively. The three asset classes account for nearly 24% of the portfolio’s total asset allocation. The pension fund recently reported that it had committed more than $3 billion in alternative investments during June alone.
The NYCRF had an asset allocation of 49.70% in publicly traded equities, 21.18% in cash, bonds and mortgages, 13.64% in private equity, 10.00% in real estate and real assets and 5.48% in credit, absolute return strategies and opportunistic alternatives. The fund’s long-term expected rate of return is 5.9%.
In the name of preserving carefully negotiated legislation, Senate Democrats’ leaders united their caucus to vote down amendments that would have added the party’s Medicare expansion plan and expanded child tax credit into the final spending bill now moving through Congress.
That unity, though, was not universally enforced: soon after those votes, seven Democratic senators joined with Republicans to cast a pivotal vote shielding their private equity donors from a new corporate minimum tax.
The seven Democrats who joined the GOP to give private equity firms that $35 billion gift were: Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
Five of the seven Democrats are among the Senate’s top recipients of campaign donations from private equity donors, according to data from OpenSecrets. The group collectively raked in more than $1.4 million of campaign cash from the private equity industry, which has become a huge source of capital for the fossil fuel conglomerates that are creating the climate crisis.
The contrast between voting to protect private equity donors and voting against programs for the working class effectively screamed the quiet part out loud about whom senators typically respond to — and whom they don’t.
In this case, Democratic and Republican senators responded to the demands of an industry that has not only spent more than a quarter billion dollars on the last two federal elections, but that also employs an army of government-officials-turned-lobbyists to influence lawmakers in Washington. The world’s largest private equity firm is headed by one of the Republican Party’s largest donors, and now employs the son-in-law of Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer as a lobbyist.
CalPERS is so reliably bad at market timing that the giant fund serves as a counter indicators. Last fall, CalPERS increased its allocation to private equity from 8% of its total portfolio to 13%, which is an increase of over 50%. This is after this humble blog, regularly citing top independent experts, pointed out that the investment raison d’etre for private equity had vanished in the 2006-2008 time frame, not once, but many many times as various studies kept confirming that finding. Not only did private equity no longer earn enough to compensate for its much higher risks (leverage and illiquidity) but it was no longer beating straight up large cap equities.
Now there is a way out of this conundrum: to bring private equity in house. Private equity fees and costs are so egregious (an estimated 7% per annum) that even a bit of underperformance relative to private equity indexes will be more than offset by greatly lower fees. A simpler option would be public market replication of private equity.
But the dogged way funds like CalPERS stick to private equity points to rank corruption, of the sort that landed CalPERS former CEO Fred Buenrostro in Federal prison for four and a half years.
Another problem is cash flow management. Private equity funds do not take investor money at closing. Instead, investors get “capital calls” to pony up part of their commitment to the fund so the fund manager can buy a company. These capital calls require the dough to be sent as specified in the offering memorandum, usually in five to ten days. The consequences of missing a capital call are draconian. The fund manager can seize all the investments made so far and distribute them to the other limited partners.
In the financial crisis, CalPERS had too little cash on hand to meet private equity capital calls. It wound up dumping stocks at distressed prices to satisfy the private equity demands. So the risk outlined below is real.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System reported a negative 6.1% return for the year, which includes a 21.3% positive return on private equity and 24.1% return on real estate as reported through the second quarter of 2022. What will happen if real-estate prices start to fall and some leveraged private-equity buyouts go south amid rising interest rates?
Collective-bargaining agreements limit how much workers must contribute to their pensions, so taxpayers are required to make up for investment losses. Employer retirement contributions—that is, taxpayers—make up 20% of government worker compensation. That amount has soared over the past decade as pension funds tried to make up for losses during the 2008-2009 financial panic.
A recent report by the Equable Institute found that state and local pension plans now are only 77.9% funded on average, which is about the same as in 2008. But some like Chicago’s are less than 40%. Advice to taxpayers in Illinois: Run.
D1, which first opened for business in 2009 and officially took on its new name last month, recently announced it has become Colombia’s main food retailer. Citing findings from Nielsen, the company said it had a 9.7% share in the retail market and a 74% share in the so-called “hard discount” sector at the end of 2021. D1 has over 2,000 stores and reported 2021 operating income of more than $10.9 billion, which was a 32% increase from 2020. It also said this year.
CalPERS is up to its old crooked, value-destroying ways. Its sale of $6 billion in private equity positions, at a big discount….because CalPERS was in a hurry despite no basis for urgency, shows yet again the sort of thing the giant fund routinely does that puts it at the very bottom of financial returns for major public pension funds.
In Dawm Lim’s Bloomberg story, Calpers Unloads Record $6 Billion of Private Equity at Discount, CalPERS admits to cooking the books. Not recognizing the sale (the loss in value) in the same fiscal year can only be to play shenanigans with the rate of return. So if, or more likely when, CalPERS again does badly in comparison to CalSTRS and similar funds, remember it would be even worse if CalPERS was accounting honestly.
More than 100 state, city, county and other governments borrowed for their pension funds last year, twice the highest number that did so in any prior year, according to a Municipal Market Analytics analysis of Bloomberg data. Nearly $13 billion of these pension obligation bonds were sold last year, which is more than in the prior five years combined.
The Teacher Retirement System of Texas, the U.S.’s fifth-largest public pension fund, began leveraging its investment portfolio in 2019. Next month, the largest U.S. public-worker fund, the roughly $440 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as Calpers, will add leverage for the first time in its 90-year history.
While most pension funds still avoid investing borrowed money, the use of leverage is spreading faster than ever. Just four years ago, none of the five largest pension funds used leverage.
Investing with borrowed money can juice returns when markets are rising, but make losses more severe in a down market. This year’s steep slump in financial markets will test the funds’ strategy.
It’s too soon to tell how the magnified bets are playing out in the current market, as funds won’t report second-quarter returns until later in the summer. In the first quarter, public pension funds as a whole returned a median minus 4%, according to data from the Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service released last month. A portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds—not what funds use—returned minus 5.55% in the quarter, Wilshire said.
A new era in the decade-long battle by retirees and whistleblowers to halt massive transfers of wealth out of retirement funds and into Wall Street firms could be at hand, thanks to the case of Katie Muth.
Muth, a Democratic Pennsylvania state senator, is one of fifteen trustees who oversees Pennsylvania’s largest public pension fund, the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PennPSERS). Not long after her February 2021 appointment to the board, Muth began questioning the fund’s investments in areas like private equity, hedge funds, and real estate.
Over the past thirty years, public pension funds have moved $1.4 trillion of retiree savings into such high-risk, high-fee “alternative investments,” enriching finance industry moguls like Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group and Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies while often shortchanging retired public employees and teachers.
But Muth says that when she asked the fund’s investment staff for more information about its high-risk investments, she was rebuffed — so in June 2021, she sued the fund for basic information about its investments.
The State Teachers’ Retirement Board of Ohio shifted its asset mix at its board meeting last week, announcing it will now target 26% of its assets to U.S. equities, down from 28%. It also decreased its international equity allocation to 22% from 23%. The fund increased its allocation to private equity to 9% from 7% and its allocation to fixed income to 17% from 16%.
The increase in private equity, which had record returns this past year, is part of a broader trend. STRS Ohio saw 29% returns in fiscal year 2021, in part driven by a 45% return on alternative assets. These returns were topped only by domestic equities, which returned 46.3% for the fund.
The pension plan is also beginning to share some of these returns with pension beneficiaries. At its board meeting last week, the pension approved a 3% one-time cost-of-living increase for beneficiaries who retired before June 1, 2018. The 3% adjustment is still less than half of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ official inflation calculation of 7% in 2021.