Last week, I penned a Document Dump column on how the focus on one-year returns within the pension and endowment sector-or at least the media outlets covering them-was misguided.
I received back an encouraging number of comments via email and phone-and every single one from a pension or endowment manager was overwhelmingly positive. I realize that this group has an incentive to dismiss what will likely be between "a +2% and -2% fiscal year return" as meaningless, but just because the group has a vested interest does not mean that this interest is wrong.
The reality is that despite whatever the political situation public pensions find themselves in today, despite funding promises and lack of follow-through by elected officials, chief investment officers and their staff have one main responsibility: Construct a portfolio that will, over the long-term, produce returns that can ultimately provide retirement security.
One-year returns should have very little impact on this overall responsibility.
Yet I received one negative reply from a man who edits a news-aggregator website seemingly aimed at painting public pensions in a negative light. "I don't think you understand how CalPERS' works," he wrote, linking to a newspaper editorial talking about how municipalities and cities have to eventually pick up the tab for failing pensions.
He's right, of course-and yet he entirely missed the point. Benefits have been promised. State legislatures have all-too-often "forgotten" to fund these promises. CIOs and their staff have nothing to do with this. They have a portfolio to construct. They have a return target. If they construct that portfolio with one-year return concerns foremost in their minds, they are unlikely to ever hit that target over the long-term-which is the true measure of success.
My response back to this editor was simple: "How would YOU construct the portfolio, then?"
Five days later, I have yet to receive a response.