State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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PA's return on pension investments is lower than national averages

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Apr 13, 2017 3:12 AM

First-term Treasurer Joe Torsella has advocated shifting state funds to lower-risk investments. (Photo by AP)

(Harrisburg) -- A new Pew Charitable Trusts report shows state investors across the country are increasingly making more expensive, more volatile investments with pension funds in an effort to beat market rates.

It's a trend some in Pennsylvania have already recognized as a potential problem--and there is a growing movement looking to reverse it.

Traditionally, states have invested the billions of dollars that flow through their public pension funds in safe places, like corporate and government bonds.

Around the 1980s, however, they began investing more in stocks, which can make more money, but are also more volatile. And over the last decade, there has been even more investment in newer alternatives, like hedge funds.

The result? Greg Mennis, director of Pew's Public Sector Retirement Systems Project, said states are paying way more money for high returns they might never see.

"The increase to the alternative asset classes has more than doubled over the past decade, and along with that there's been about a 30 percent increase to the

investment managers that help with public pension funds," he said.

Mennis said Pennsylvania ranks low in terms of getting bang for its invested buck.

"From a performance perspective the state has been a little bit below average, he said, referencing returns on investment that are consistently below projections. "On a fee perspective, fees have averaged about $600 million a year, and that would put Pennsylvania in about the fop 5 of the states."

Recently, state Treasurer Joe Torsella announced he's shifting a billion state dollars that he controls to cheaper, more stable investments.

However, he's limited in that he doesn't have control of the state's biggest pots of money--its two public pension funds.

Published in News, State House Sound Bites

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