California Endowment to Yank Money From Worst-Performing Funds

  • CIO plans to cut number of hedge funds who oversee $2 billion
  • University of California system reviewing asset allocation

The University of California’s endowment, which manages $2 billion in hedge fund investments, plans to pull money from the worst-performing managers and redirect assets to top firms, the state system’s investing chief said.

Jagdeep Bachher

Source: Wikicommons

The number of hedge fund managers will be cut to about 10 from 32 as soon as June, the latest move in a revamp of the university’s $95.7 billion in pension and endowment assets that began two years ago under Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Bachher.

The university hasn’t determined whether it will also reduce its allocation to hedge funds in the endowment, which has $8.8 billion in assets, Bachher said Wednesday in an interview. The goal is to create “a simpler, leaner and cleaner portfolio” with better controls over management fees, he said.

“We care about returns,” Bachher said. “We care about risk. We care about cost and we care about transparency.”

Bachher informed the board that oversees the investment office on Feb. 26 about the reduction of hedge fund managers. “You give more money to the people who are doing well for you as opposed to spreading it out,” Bachher said at the meeting, according to a video posted on the university’s website.

Since Bachher took over, the California regents office has liquidated $10 billion of investments, including private equity and real-estate funds -- also redirecting that money to its best performing outside managers.

Hedge funds have been among the worst-performing assets for the endowment. They posted a 3.5 percent loss in the first six months of fiscal 2016 through Dec. 31, while the entire portfolio declined 2.5 percent, according to a report from the Feb. 26 meeting. Over a decade, hedge funds generated a 5.5 percent annual return versus 6.4 percent for the portfolio. Private equity holdings, by contrast, gained 4.2 percent in six months and 11.7 percent over 10 years.

Under Scrutiny

The largest allocation as of Dec. 31, 2014, was $147 million to BIWA Fund Ltd., according to the most recent data available. The fund is controlled by London-based CQS Management Ltd., a multi-strategy manager. The next largest was $109 million in a total return fund from York Capital Management, a New York-based multi-strategy investor.

The endowment’s hedge fund performance has come under scrutiny. According to a March 1 report from a union representing employees at the 10-campus system, the absolute return program launched in 2002 has failed deliver on a promise of producing returns at least commensurate with common stocks yet generated as much as $1 billion in fees for outside firms. Bachher declined to comment on the study.

“The amazing returns of a select few basically has had a huge negative impact as others tried to copy but were unable to do so,” said Thomas Gilbert, an assistant finance professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, who reviewed the union’s report before it was published.

Hedge funds, which bet on rising as well as falling securities prices, have been subject to growing scrutiny because of the high fees they charge for what in recent years has often been subpar performance. While dispersion among returns was sizable, the asset class on average lost 1 percent in 2015. It also trailed the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index for seven calendar years, according to data compiled by Hedge Fund Research Inc.

Reduce Exposure

American International Group Inc. said last month it would reallocate about 50 percent of an $11 billion hedge-fund portfolio as performance soured. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System in September 2014 said it would divest the entire $4 billion it had in the asset class, saying the strategies were too expensive and complex.

While 9 percent of endowment managers said they planned to add to their hedge fund allocation in the fiscal year beginning in July, 17 percent said they would lower their exposure to such strategies, according to a survey last month by the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the money manager Commonfund.

The California system also has $3.2 billion of hedge funds in its $53 billion pension and another $1 billion of exposure through its working capital. The pension fund is invested in the same hedge fund managers as the endowment and produced the same return last year, according to university documents.

Bachher said in the interview that the university is also reviewing the absolute return funds in the pension fund as well as the six managers overseeing the allocation in the working capital fund.

A concentration of managers could result in more risk to a portfolio, said Darren Myers, a Denver-based partner in the asset management group at Perella Weinberg Partners, which oversees $8.9 billion for institutions such as universities.

“An investor could expect higher returns by reducing the number of managers but at the cost of higher volatility,” Myers said.

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