Underinvested in US Equities, Overinvested in Hedge Funds

Last summer in Boston, the Trustee Leadership Forum for Retirement Security held its annual meeting at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Trustees and representatives of various state pension funds listened to explanations about the challenges facing endowments and pension funds.

The conference is an attempt to explain why so many state pensions are underfunded and underperforming. The event was run by Jay Youngdahl, a senior fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University. Youngdahl is the author of “Investment Consultants and Institutional Corruption,” and as you might imagine, there was very little in the way of minced words at this event. I was invited to give a presentation to this group on how cognitive bias and performance-chasing leads to investing failures (you can see “The High Cost of Neuro-Financial Errors” here).

A large part of the impetus for this sort of conference is the solidifying consensus that what has become known as the Yale model — outsized investments in hedge funds, venture capital and private equity — no longer works. Indeed, the performance numbers for the past 10 years make it clear that this model has failed to live up to its promise for a while, perhaps because there just aren’t enough good alternative investments to go around. Note that none of this is cutting-edge theory or newly discovered knowledge. Rather, it is a result of institutional inertia, where even a failing approach to investing holds on to its adherents long past its sell-by date.

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