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Nashville pension fund leads U.S. in risky investments

Posted on 07 April 2018 (0)

pensionsNashville’s public pension system invested city workers’ retirement funds in the nation’s largest share of risky, high-priced investments among its peers. After eight years, the aggressive strategy shows promise, but it’s not clear if it’s worth the risk to retirees, or the millions paid to Wall Street managers.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, Nashville’s pension managers have been shifting taxpayer money into junk bonds, hedge funds, troubled mortgages, private equity funds and other alternatives to conservative stocks and bonds. If successful, these “alternative investments” can earn greater profits, but they also demand high fees and carry the risk of heavy losses.

Nashville’s investments have shown mixed results. After taking out fees, the city’s fund grew by 4.7 percent a year since 2008, on average, while the Standard & Poors 500 gained 6.6 percent.

Pension systems across the country, looking to improve their balance sheets, have moved into this once-rarefied realm of Wall Street financiers. But Nashville stands out for its large share of so-called alternatives.

The city has placed 57 percent of its $2.8 billion fund into alternative investments, including real estate. Among its peers, Nashville had the highest share in fiscal year 2015, according a Tennessean analysis of National Association of State Retirement Administrators data for funds with $1 billion to $5 billion in assets. The national average among all public funds, by contrast, is 17 percent.

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This is an ongoing series into Nashville’s pension fund. Here are two other stories:

How much does Wall Street make from Nashville’s pension fund? Nobody knows.

Nashville pension fund paying Wall Street 40% more than previously disclosed

Which Nashville neighborhoods are doubling up after demolition?

Posted on 06 April 2018 (0)
Wade Payne / For The Tennessean

Wade Payne / For The Tennessean

From his office above a Whole Foods store in upscale Green Hills, John Brittle Jr. and his team of agents target the next affordable Nashville neighborhood for redevelopment.

Brittle, a broker with Parks Realty, is called the “Infill King.” His developer clients rely on him to spot bargain older homes, which they tear down and replace with bigger, more expensive properties.

“For 30 years, real estate agents have been talking about the TSU and Fisk areas,” Brittle said, referring to the neighborhoods surrounding Tennessee State University and Fisk University, two of Nashville’s historically black institutions. “We’re going to see some beautiful stuff there.”

Investors and builders have transformed entire neighborhoods in recent years as Nashville’s appetite for homes soared. Countywide, nearly half of all properties with single structures demolished and new construction approved had two or more residential buildings planned for the lot, according to a Tennessean analysis of Metro Nashville permit data.

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The Cost of Jobs: What do taxpayers get for Tennessee business subsidies?

Posted on 06 April 2018 (0)

amazonClarksville, a military hub north of Nashville with 150,000 residents, has awarded multimillion-dollar property tax breaks to large corporations, including Google, without publicly disclosing the value of the subsidies or tracking hiring at those companies.

“It’s a verbal check,” said Mike Evans, executive director of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Industrial Development Board. “Do we have a piece of paper or a form filled out? We don’t. But it’s a system.”

More than $2.5 billion in subsidies such as grants, tax breaks and tax credits are given to businesses in the state each year, according to an analysis by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

An investigation by the largest four media organizations in Tennessee — The Tennessean, The Commercial Appeal, Knoxville News Sentinel and (Chattanooga) Times Free Press — found statewide that many officials and agencies do not track or disclose the number of jobs created by subsidy deals.

That lack of accountability means taxpayers and leaders can’t effectively decide whether individual subsidy deals are a good investment or if the money would be better spent on education, infrastructure or another jobs program.

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Pension board takes $450 million risk

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)

orangecountyOrange County Register

In the past year, the Orange County Public Employees Retirement System board has agreed to loan $450 million to companies in the U.S., Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, mostly little-known companies with poor credit ratings that need cash.

Officials are hoping the loans, made through investment managers, will supercharge earnings. But they acknowledge some of the investments are risky and each loan’s principal could be lost.

Retirement boards across the U.S. are exploring more exotic investments – well beyond stocks and bonds – to keep pace with promised pension benefits and large unfunded liabilities. Experts vary on the wisdom of chasing high-return investments, but most agree they should be limited in a public pension fund.

OCERS has invested more and sooner in direct lending than most other large public pension funds. Direct lending accounts for slightly more than 4 percent of the assets in the $10.9 billion OCERS fund.

“There’s no such thing as a 15 percent safe investment … There are reasons banks aren’t doing these loans,” said John Shoven, director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. “It would be risky in the extreme if this became a large part of the portfolio. But at the 5 percent level, I (would be) willing to take the risk.”

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While fees climbed, pension earnings lagged

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)

orangecountyOrange County’s public pension system poured money into hedge funds, private equity and other so-called alternative investments during the past six years, but the returns have proven mediocre despite costing millions in fees.

This year alone, the fund is expecting to pay $54.5 million to alternative-investment managers, according to a budget briefing document obtained by the Orange County Register.

But in financial reports through the first half of the year, the pension system disclosed none of those fees. Officials said they are following standard government reporting practices.

Indeed, the Orange County Employees Retirement System is not alone.

As pension funds nationwide struggle to make up large unfunded liabilities, public officials have shifted billions of dollars to risky investments like hedge funds instead of traditional stocks and bonds. Fund leaders say it’s a way to diversify their portfolios, and they argue for patience with new investments.

But experts say the results, in most cases, have been lackluster earnings for public pension funds and a boon for Wall Street money managers.

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Hospital Works to Bridge Cultural Barriers

Posted on 03 May 2011 (0)
A new garden at Hoag Hospital in Irvine follows feng shui principles. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

A new garden at Hoag Hospital in Irvine follows feng shui principles. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

Los Angeles Times

The nurse just thought she was bringing a refreshing dessert — a Popsicle — to a new mother. She didn’t expect the grandmother, shocked, to stop her and intercept the treat.

The cold was taboo for Shu-Fen Chen.

After emigrating from Taiwan, Chen gave birth to her first child in a Los Angeles hospital. Her cultural beliefs say a new mother shouldn’t touch anything cold for a month after birth, or she will suffer headaches later in life, she says.
Eventually, Chen moved to Irvine, home to one of the largest Chinese American populations in the nation and once home to Irvine Regional Hospital, where she had her second child. There, the nurse knew better.

“So many traditions people cannot believe,” said Chen, executive director of the South Coast Chinese Cultural Assn. in Irvine. “But some nurses just understand our culture.”

When Hoag Hospital opened its Irvine campus recently, replacing Irvine Regional, administrators hoped they had done enough to understand Irvine residents’ cultural beliefs, traditions and language.

Since the 1950s, Hoag has served mostly white and increasingly Latino patients at its Newport Beach location. Now, the hospital is stepping into a community that is nearly 40% Asian and has a large Iranian population.

Hoag has made a number of special preparations for these patients. They include creating patient rooms arranged according to the principles of feng-shui and to serving steamed rice for breakfast, and less-tangible gestures such as respectfully presenting documents with two hands and speaking to patients with more formality.

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Surfwear Firms Expand Their Markets (OCM)

Posted on 31 October 2009 (0)

Picture 1In the wide world of design and fashion, a band of suntanned entrepreneurs have carved out a multi-billion dollar niche. Huntington Beach and Irvine have become the Milan and Paris of the surf apparel industry.

Cheeky models and brooding hunks may strut spotlighted European runways wearing the newest in high fashion from Versace, Hugo Boss, and Gucci. But it is along Orange County’s meandering 42-mile shoreline that the styles and designs that define surfwear worldwide are dreamed up. From boardshorts to sundresses to sandals, the casual wear from Quiksilver, O’Neill, Hurley and others who call Orange County home have revolutionized casual wear from sea to sea and many zip codes in between.

The industry began in the 1950s with a handful of surfboard shapers designing T-shirts promoting their boards. But as the allure of the ocean and its laid-back lifestyle has grown, so has the pursuit of the comfortable beach style. [...]

Cell towers get poor reception

Posted on 03 August 2008 (0)


Daily Pilot

CRYSTAL COVE STATE PARK — He fought powerful interests: Caltrans, Orange County, the state parks system and the Irvine Co., all in the name of ocean views.

Dale Ghere, then a high school biology teacher, spent the late 1990s eradicating a towering brush from swaths of Crystal Cove State Park. The saltbrush was blocking views — not from his home — but from Coast Highway, where he rode his bike each day.

Everything was clear until May, when a cell phone company stuck a pole next to the state-owned highway. It was not one of those lunar rover-looking towers, but a slender, 30-foot tall pole. Still, Ghere — and a few others — were surprised to see it: The company didn’t announce it publically, nor did it apply for a California Coastal Commission permit or inform the state parks it was erecting the pole.

“They just don’t get it. People have been working for four decades to get this park developed,” Ghere said, agitated. “For me it’s just one more little chink, just one more little thing that gets in the way of the open space.”

Click here to read the rest of the story in the Daily Pilot and here here to read the version in the Los Angeles Times.