Monday, October 17, 2011

Does Private Equity Make Sense for NYCERS? No.

Recently the Comptroller as part of his effort to increase transparency has started posting the full agendas of investment meetings held by the NYCERS Board of Trustees. NYCERS has ten of these meetings every year in addition to the ten regular meeting where administrative and disability issues are handled.

Prior to these postings NYCERS had refused my FOIL requests for these full agendas. NYCERS reason for the denial was that some of the material was discussed in executive session. Of course that is not a valid reason for denial but I didn’t have the financial resources to file a court challenge. It will be interesting to see if the Comptroller continues to make these items and future items available on his web site

What I was looking for in particular in the full agendas were the reports on private equity and real estate performance produce by the two consulting firms monitoring the partnerships.

The reports have some interesting data which allowed me to approximate the actually performance of the partnerships. The data includes the total cash-in, the total cash-out, an estimate of the “market” value of NYCERS portion of the partnership, and an estimate of the internal rate of return (IRR) for each partnership. I used quotes around the word market because there is no open market for the buying and selling of limited partnerships.

To perform an exact internal rate of return (IRR) for these partnerships you would require a full date specific history of each cash transaction between NYCERS and the partnership including all fees and the partnership would have to be dissolved with a final closing cash-out to NYCERS. I know that NYCERS is not currently maintaining the transaction data and therefore is not able to confirm the IRR of any of its partnerships. I don’t know what method the consultants are using to produce their IRR’s.

In order, however, to do some cross checking on the consultant’s estimated IRR’s I used the data from the report and the history of the estimated market values of the partnerships. This allowed me to estimate an IRR that I have more confidence in.

For example, NYCERS oldest private equity partnership, VS&A Communications Partners III, first shows up in FY-1999. As of March 31, 2011 it had a reported value of $14.56M. The consultants quoted an IRR of 6.2% for VS&A for the period from 12/15/1998 to 10/30/2010.

Not very impressive but, I suspect, overly optimistic.

The cash-in amount for the 13 years was $50.23M and the cash-out amount was $53.43M. Assuming a final cash-out payment on 6/30/2011 of $14.56M("value" as of 3/31/2011), my estimate of their IRR is a 4.3% annual rate of return.

In addition, NYCERS has paid $5.9M in fees to VS&A from FY-1999 trough FY-2011.

As a comparison, NYCERS government bond managers have an annual rate of return over the last 15 years of 7.13%. The fees in FY-2010 for NYCERS government bond portfolio with an asset value of $994.66M were $255,000. These assets are total liquid and have minimum risk.

VS&A is a typical private equity manager. With the explosion of the number of private equity partnerships in business to service the public pension arena, the rates of return will become locked into average market returns at best and more likely will average worse than the S&P 500 index but with obscenely higher fees. NYCERS has 140 private equity contracts, 4 of which have closed down without any public report by NYCERS.

I have professional opinions on what is happening here but I will let the numbers speak for themselves.

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