San Diego Pension’s Retreat From Risk Avoids $100 Million Loss

San Diego County’s pension fund avoided a $100 million loss in the third quarter by reducing its reliance on Treasury bonds although it forfeited about $114.4 million in gains in the past three months because it rolled back its “risk-parity” strategy, the fund’s investment adviser said in a report.

In April, the board of the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association lowered the fund’s fixed-income target to 15 percent from 60 percent by eliminating Treasuries and reducing fixed-income investments and inflation-protected securities. That helped cushion the fund from $100 million in losses in the three months ended Sept. 30, according to the report by Houston-based Salient Partners LP, which manages the $10.1 billion portfolio.

Instead, the fund for 39,000 current and retired county employees lost $4 million.

In September, the board reduced the amount of money that could be invested in futures and derivatives contracts, the so-called risk-parity category the board created in April at the urging of Lee Partridge, Salient’s chief investment officer.

Partridge objected to the September move. With retirees urging board members to reduce exposure to risk, they voted 5-2 to make the change.

Since then, the fund has lost out on about $114.4 million in returns, according to Partridge’s report.

Partridge and Dan Flores, a spokesman for the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association, declined to comment until the board discusses the report on Dec. 18.

The board has considered replacing Salient with a chief investment officer, and earlier this month directed staff to draw up a timeline for terminating the firm’s contract.

The San Diego fund has taken on riskier investments as the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System turned away from real estate and hedge funds to shield themselves from risk. San Diego’s gain in the year ended June 30 was 13.3 percent, compared with Calpers’ 18.4 percent and Calstrs’ 18.7 percent.

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