New York City Comptroller Brad Lander wants state lawmakers to increase the share of its pension assets that can be invested in more expensive and opaque asset classes like private equity that promise higher returns.
Lander is asking Governor Kathy Hochul and the legislature for authority to raise a cap on alternative assets — which also include direct loans to companies and private real estate — to 35% from 25% to maximize returns for the pension funds that hold $275 billion.
A provision in state law, known as the “basket clause” that sets the cap hasn’t been adjusted since 2006. Former Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill to increase the share to 30% in 2014.
The law “fails to reflect the realities of the modern investment world and hampers our ability to prudently diversify our portfolio, maximize our risk-adjusted returns, and save money in the long term,” Lander said in testimony Feb. 9 to a joint state legislative committee hearing on Hochul’s proposed budget.
If state lawmakers don’t want to increase the “basket clause” cap, Lander asked them to raise a limit on foreign stocks to 30% from 10%.
Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for Hochul, said the governor would evaluate the request with the legislature. Mayor Eric Adams, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins weren’t able to provide immediate comment.
U.S. state and local government pensions, which count on annual investment gains of about 7% on average, have piled into illiquid alternative assets to cover pension shortfalls after a decades-long decline in interest rates and slower economic growth made it harder to meet long-term targets.
Private equity firms and hedge funds often charge investors fees of as much as 2% of money they manage and 20% of profits. New York City’s five pension funds paid investment managers about $1.2 billion in fees in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021.
While public pensions have racked up blockbuster returns over the last two years — fueled by massive fiscal and monetary stimulus — many pension managers expect future returns to fall as economic growth slows.
U.S. public pensions increased their allocations to alternative investments to an average of almost 31% of total assets in 2020 from 15% in 2007, according to data provider Preqin. Many seek to emulate the “Yale model” pioneered by the David Swensen, the former chief investment officer of Yale University’s endowment.