- Second-largest U.S. pension fund aims for long-term 7.5% gains
- Teacher retirement system cites 10% gains in the 2010s decade
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the second-largest U.S. public pension fund, earned 1.4 percent in the 12 months through June, missing its return target for the second straight year.
Calstrs seeks to earn 7.5 percent on average over time to avoid falling further behind in its obligations to 896,000 current and retired teachers and their families. The fund, which had $188.7 billion in assets as of June 30, averaged returns of 7.8 percent over the last three years, 7.7 percent over five years, 5.6 percent over 10 years and 7 percent over 20 years.
“The Calstrs portfolio is designed for the long haul,” Chief Investment Officer Christopher Ailman said Tuesday in a statement. “We look at performance in terms of decades, not years. The decade of the 2010s has so far been a good performer, averaging 10.3 percent net.”
U.S. pension funds have struggled to meet investing goals amid stock volatility, shrinking bond returns and slowing emerging-market growth at a time when retirees are living longer and health-care costs are rising. Long-term unfunded liabilities may ultimately need to be closed by higher employee withholding rates, reduced benefits or bigger taxpayer contributions.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the nation’s largest pension fund with $302 billion in assets, earned 0.6 percent for the latest fiscal year, according to figures released Monday. Calpers trails its assumed annualized 7.5 percent rate of return for the past three-, five-, 10-, 15- and 20-year periods.
Calstrs and Calpers are bellwethers for public pension funds because of their size and investment approach. Both have pressured money managers to reduce fees while also using their influence as shareholders to lobby for environmental, social and corporate-governance reforms.
Calstrs returned 4.8 percent in the previous fiscal year after gaining 19 percent in 2014. Over the last decade, the teacher system’s returns ranged from a 23 percent gain in 2011 to a 25 percent loss in 2009.
The fund’s investments in stocks fell 2.3 percent last year, while fixed income and real estate both rose 11 percent and private equity increased 2.9 percent. As of June 30, Calstrs had about 55 percent of its assets in global stocks, 17 percent in fixed-income, 14 percent in real estate, 8.7 percent in private equity with the balance in cash and other financial instruments.
While Calstrs outperformed its benchmark index for equities by 0.2 percent last year, its returns trailed in every other category.
Since 2014, Calstrs’s unfunded liability has grown an estimated 27 percent to $69.2 billion while Calpers’s gap has increased 59 percent to $149 billion, according to Joe Nation, a professor of the practice of public policy at Stanford University. Both retirement systems’ assumptions of 7.5 percent returns are based on wishful thinking, he said.
“The assumption is we’re going to have a period like the 1990s again,” Nation said. “And there are very few people who believe that you’ll get the equity returns over the next five or 10 years that we saw in the 1990s.”