The California Public Employees’ Retirement System is sharply scaling back its use of external “emerging” equity fund managers, a potential blow to efforts to promote diversity, as the largest U.S. public pension reworks strategies to meet its return target.
CalPERS says it launched its emerging manager program in 1991. Many of the firms are led by women and minorities, and eligible candidates have less than $2 billion under management. But the effort has fallen under the same pressures facing traditional managers: the need to produce acceptable gains.
Returns from traditional and emerging managers overall haven’t contributed enough to achieving CalPERS’ 7% annual target, Chief Executive Marcie Frost wrote in an Oct. 21 memo to the board, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg.
“In past three months we reduced traditional external managers from $30-plus billion to $5 billion — from 17 managers to three,” Frost said in the memo. The pension is “now also restructuring emerging manager program and reducing number of managers — from five to one and $3.6 billion to $500 million.”
Pension funds nationwide are striving to cut costs, improve returns and shore up their long-term funding status. CalPERS, with $387 billion in assets as of Tuesday, has long been trimming ties with outside managers. The process accelerated under Chief Investment Officer Ben Meng, who started in January.
CalPERS spokeswoman Megan White, responding Wednesday to a request for comment, said the reduction “isn’t new news.” CIO magazine earlier reported the move.
Traditional managers have underperformed their benchmarks by 48 basis points over the past five years net of fees, and emerging managers by 126 basis points, according to Frost.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, Calpers spent $119 million on external equity managers who oversaw $29 billion, according to an October presentation to the board. The reduction in managers will save $100 million annually, according to Frost’s memo: $80 million from traditional managers and $20 million with emerging firms.
She didn’t name managers who may be cut, but said the investment team would “begin notifying our emerging manager advisors who will no longer retain a mandate from CalPERS.”
Focusing on achieving the best risk-adjusted returns should be the priority at CalPERS, according to board member Margaret Brown, who applauded the manager reductions.
“It’s about time we put our fiduciary duty ahead of politics,” Brown said in an email.
Gittelsohn writes for Bloomberg.