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PA teachers' pension fund down $4 billion: Update

PA teachers' pension fund says it declined 10% in first quarter

"For the quarter ended March 31, 2009, PSERS produced investment performance of negative 9.63%" says the Pennsylvania Public Employees' Investment Fund, as assets fell to $40 billion after pension payments and investment losses, says PSERS in this statement.

UPDATE: That latest official report, which PSERS released after board meetings Thursday night, uses data from back in the first quarter -- and some from last year:

Results for its private equity and real estate investments, says PSERS, are "lagged one quarter" behind its stock and bond data. PSERS says those were down 25% and 15%, respectively, "for the quarter ended March 31." Except they weren't:  Because those numbers were lagged, these PE and RE numbers are actually for the fund's portfolio in the quarter ended Dec. 31, spokeswoman Evelyn Tatkovski said, when I asked her.

So the newly-reported PSERS returns are a mash-up of two-and-a-half-month old stock-and-bond returns (about two-thirds of the fund), with five-and-a-half-month-old private-equity and real-estate numbers (the other one-third). PSERS won't report the first-quarter PE and RE results until September. Tatkovski attributes these delays to private-equity and real estate auditing practices.

A retail investment fund that tried to report results with these delays - or a bank that gave its examiners, or a private-equity fund that gave its clients, months-old data - might get laughed into court. But it's all perfectly legal - and normal, as PSERS staff notes - for a state pension fund. With its long-term view.

Cheer up, says PSERS in its statement: "An economic recovery has begun.  The investment markets have rallied in the second quarter.  The fund is up approximately 10% for the quarter to date which has offset the losses reported for the quarter ended in March. As a result, PSERS net asset value, which fell to nearly $40 billion in March, has increased to an estimated $44 billion in early June."

That hopeful estimate doesn't include private equity or real estate results from any time this year.. But those are expected to be a lot better than they were in the fourth quarter, Tatkovski told me.

Does it matter how fresh a picture we have? These numbers are volatile, quarter to quarter. But they give the public the only picture we get on how the hundreds of private firms hired by PSERS are collectively performing with state money. And they are used by the pension system to help calculate future pension "contributions" from the state and local school districts. Bottom line: Taxpayers will have to pay more, given the investment portfolio's decline, and the rise in pension costs, as more veteran teachers and administrators retire at 70 percent of their rising salaries.

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