Harvard Gains 11.3% on Endowment to Trail Returns at Yale

Harvard University, which last week introduced the largest capital campaign in the history of higher education, gained 11.3 percent on investments in the year through June, trailing Yale University’s 12.5 percent return.

Harvard, the world’s wealthiest school, said its endowment grew to $32.7 billion, beating benchmarks and generating an additional $600 million largely from U.S. and foreign public equities and hedge funds. The university, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said it gained on average 9.4 percent annually over 10 years even after a record 27 percent loss in 2009.

“I am very proud of the internal and external managers we have in place and the results they have achieved,” Jane Mendillo, chief executive officer of Harvard Management Co., the university entity that oversees investments, said in a report released yesterday. “We have made a strong recovery since the global economic downturn of 2008-2009.”

Harvard is still seeking to recoup all of the losses it suffered from the global credit crisis after the endowment peaked in value at $36.9 billion in 2008. It has also trailed returns posted by Ivy League rivals such as Yale in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Yale’s Gains

Yale said yesterday its endowment rose to $20.8 billion in fiscal 2013, while Penn reported last week a 14.4 percent return and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said investments were up 11.1 percent. Foundations and endowments as a group had a one-year median return of 11.28 percent for the 12 months ended June 30, Wilshire Associates said in an Aug. 6 report.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, said last week it surpassed $1 billion in endowment assets for the first time after posting an investment return of 16 percent. Paula Volent, the school’s senior vice president for investments, previously worked at Yale, as did the heads of Penn’s and MIT’s endowments.

Harvard, Yale and other elite schools generated superior returns for years before the credit crisis by aggressively expanding investments in alternative assets such as private equity and hedge funds, which are less liquid than publicly traded stocks and bonds. Last year Harvard lost 0.05 percent, while the Wilshire index was up 0.38 percent.

“This was a year in which it paid to be in public equity and developed markets,” said Max Senter, a managing director at Cambridge Associates LLC, a Boston-based research and consulting firm. “It was a big up year for U.S. equity and for big European countries and Japan.”

Harvard’s Portfolio

Mendillo said in the report released yesterday that Harvard’s holdings of domestic equities gained 26.6 percent, while foreign equities were up 20.5 percent. The hedge fund portfolio was up 13.2 percent, compared with a benchmark of 6.8 percent. Private equity returned 11 percent and over the last decade failed to outperform publicly traded stocks, she said.

The university remains optimistic about emerging markets even with only a 2.3 percent return for the year, Mendillo said. Harvard also liquidated $600 million of timberland as it expanded holdings of so-called real assets.

Harvard announced on Sept. 21 a $6.5 billion capital campaign to raise additional funds for research, teaching, renovating dormitories and resuming construction stalled by losses from the credit crisis. The University of Southern California had set the previous record target with a $6 billion campaign that began in 2011.

Many elite schools are benefiting from a rebound in both public and private markets, as well as the fact that they have a bias against investing in bonds, said Jim Neill, a managing director at Santa Monica-based consultant Wilshire Associates. Domestic fixed-income markets fell 0.7 percent through June 30 while foreign bonds were down 3.4 percent, he said.

“They were buying private equity and hedge funds well before they were on the radar screen of the average investor,” said Neill. “It’s really a lot of those private strategies turning the corner.”

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