Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Plan to Stop the Pension Plan Rip-Off

Via Huff Po.
A Plan to Stop the Pension Plan Rip-Off

There's big money to be made from "advising" these plans. A study from The Maryland Public Policy Institute looked at data from 33 state pension funds. In last fiscal year they examined, researchers found these pension funds paid collective fees of $6 billion!The Wall Street firms that collected these fees touted their ability to pick stocks and bonds that would "outperform a given section of the stock or bond market." They were handsomely rewarded for this alleged prowess. Unfortunately, it was a myth.The study found an inverse relationship between high fees and returns. The median five-year return for the pension funds in the study was 12.83 percent. If plans had fired their high-priced Wall Street investment bankers and instead invested in low-management-fee index funds, the annualized five-year return would have increased to 14.45 percent.The study found no evidence that alternative investments, such as hedge funds and private equity, beat the market.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why I am supporting Ron Elmer for Treasurer

Ron Elmer is running for the democratic nomination for the NC Treasurer.   Ron Elmer is highly qualified for the job.  Here's why:

  • He has extensive investment management experience managing institutional mutual funds and index funds.  He's even managed index funds for the State Pension Fund.
  • He's very well qualified.  An NYU MBA, a CFA and a CPA.   
  • He's not a career politician - he doesn't want to use the Treasurer's office to climb the political ladder.
  • He's a really nice guy.

Ron's basic platform is to save the state millions of dollars by bringing the management of the pension fund in house and basically firing all the external managers.   Once in house, he plans to index the entire $90 billion portfolio.    I think that this is a brilliantly simple way that the state can save probably between $500 - $900 Million per year.

Let me state that again:   Ron's plan can save the State at least half a billion dollars per year and potentially close to a billion dollars per year.

This sounds like crazy money, but Wall Street investment firms have been enjoying this payola from North Carolina (and many other states) for years.   It's time to put a stop to this madness.

I've put together a short paper that details my back of the envelope computations which show that these savings are reasonable and there should be no loss in performance of the fund as a result.  In fact, I would expect that the fund will perform better.

And don't forget to vote for Ron and spread the word.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How do we know that the market is going to open "up" (or "down")?

This is a pretty basic question that most finance folks will know the answer to.   How does the media know what the market is going to do when it opens?

Turns out, the information is coming from index futures contracts that trade before the market open.  These futures contracts allow investors to bet on the price of the index (Dow or S&P) at some point in the future.   A nice explanation is on investopedia.  You can see the state of futures contracts on most financial pages - CNBC for example.

Today, the prediction was correct.  The market opened above its prior close.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What level of fees should an investor (including a pension fund) pay?

I got an update about my retirement account yesterday from TIAA-CREF.   It was good news - apparently the fees are going down on an equity index fund and also on a bond fund.

Here's a snapshot of the statement.  My fees are now 0.06% and 0.07% for two index products.   Now that is what I call cheap!

It got me wondering, how much would the NC Pension Fund pay at these rates?

Assuming that the NC Pension Fund is about $90 Billion in assets, a 0.07% expense ratio would be about $63 million in fees.

Which raises the question: Why does the NC Pension Fund pay $500 million in fees?  It appears that the fund is overpaying by about $437 Million annually.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reform needed at the NC Pension Fund.

Andy Silton has a nice piece in today's N&O in which he criticizes the management of the state pension fund.  First - the information provided by the Treasurer's office is awful.   It is almost impossible to figure out where the money is invested and what the fees are and the information is always out of date.

Second, the Treasurer seems to be pursuing a "pick winners" strategy.   This is a fool's errand.   You can't reliably pick winners in today's financial markets.  All you will end up doing is paying high fees to so-called "experts" and getting average performance in exchange.   A mountain of evidence shows this to be true.

What is worse is that the pension fund continues to move into Private Equity and Hedge Funds - both of which are incredibly expensive and do not provide the return for the risk and costs.  As Andy correctly points out, the risk of these assets is understated because they don't trade daily in the markets.

I've been making these arguments for a few years now and during that time the fees paid by the pension fund have gone up from about $300 million/year to about $500 million/year.  

This isn't small change.   The state of North Carolina pays half a billion dollars a year to Wall Street firms who provide worse performance than if the State just indexed the money.  At some point you have to question whether the Treasurer actually understands basic finance.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

New editors of the Financial Review

A little shameless self promotion. Srini Krishnamurthy and myself are honored to take over as editors of the Financial Review.
The full details are over on the Poole College of Management site

The Financial Review website is here:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The hidden risks in target date funds.

My dissertation chair and coauthor, Jay Ritter talks about some of the risks in target date funds.  His primary concern is that these funds tilt towards bonds which implicitly exposes the investor to more inflation risk.

I've blogged about target date funds before, and how they are like hotdogs, but not in a good way.