Under the Dome

Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

Janet CowellState Treasurer Janet Cowell said this morning that the state's pension fund is down $16 billion from a year ago.

The fund, which pays retirement benefits for tens of thousands of state and local government employees, is valued at $60 billion, Ben Niolet reports.

A year ago, the fund was worth $77 billion. The drop represents a 19.7 percent decline in fund performance, a measure created by the fund's actuary.

Cowell said the fund is down because of the dramatic downturn in global markets. The state's treasurers have traditionally been conservative in how they invest the money, which is why the state's pension fund is faring better than other similar funds, she said.

As the markets have turned worse, the Treasurer's office has turned even more conservative, increasing its allocation in less risky, long-term investments.

"North Carolina is in better shape than almost any state," she said.

Former Treasurer Richard Moore like to tout the fact that the fund had more than enough money to pay its beneficiaries. That's still true, but the number is sliding, Cowell said. The plan is funded at 104.7 percent. Next year that number will slide to about 100 percent.

Cowell said all retirees will get their benefits.

"You're entitled to your money," Cowell said.

The loss in value likely means that the legislature will have to increase its contribution to employees retirement benefits by about $29 million for the next year. That means the tab for the legislature will be somewhere around $430 million. The legislature's burden will likely increase in 2010.

Employees contribute 6 percent of their checks to the fund. Erica Baldwin, a spokeswoman for the State Employees Association, which represents some 55,000 employees or retirees, said the organization has repeatedly urged the legislature to up their contribution to state employees retirement.

"That's been the weakest leg of the stool," Baldwin said.

Update: Post now includes more details.

Correction: Post now includes correct value of the fund a year ago. It also includes a better description of the change in performance.


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Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

It is true that many people have invested unwisely in the past eight years. That includes those involved in the management of the State Employees Pension Fund.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

Eight years, that is a familiar time span. In the past eight years, our fund and our children's funds have dropped. We invest with a very conservative brokerage firm. It would be very hard to get around a loss while invested in funds. The only bump in the last eight years "was" real estate.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

"these same critics would be complaining that the fund had grown too slowly."

Too slowly? It has not grown at all in eight years. It has lost money. To judge performance over two or even three years might be unfair. Eight years and no gain indicates bad judgment.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

The pension fund is down due to a national economic downturn. This drop is a result of the diversified investments in the fund, some agressive, some safer. Had the fund not carried some agressive investments, these same critics would be complaining that the fund had grown too slowly. As our national government has been in a mostly Republican stranglehold for the last eight years, if there is any blame to pass around for this, it should fall at their feet. I'll take the mostly Democrat-run state management,thank you. While not perfect, it sure seems better in comparison.

Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

The State Pension Plan still has too much of their funds invested in equities. If you believe this $17 billion loss was significant, just wait for the market to lose another 3,000 to 4,000 points. Remember 11/4/2008....the day the Obama stock market crash began. The stock market value is merely a reflection on the future economy under democratic leadership.

Re: htkirbys - Come out from behind the curtain

Who is Charles Heatherly?

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

that weasel, mike easley is to blame!!!

Re: htkirbys - Come out from behind the curtain

It's a simple fact of simple arithmetic. The state pension fund is worth less than it was eight years ago.

htkirbys - Come out from behind the curtain

Htkirbys sounds remarkably uninformed, ridiulously passionate in his distaste for Mr. Moore, and quite the fan of Mr. Boyles.

Hmmm, there is something familiar sounding about all this.

Could htkirbys be Charles Heatherly, a long time Moore critic and former employee of Boyles?

The old dog needs to find a new bone. The pension fund shines when compared to its peers in down markets.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

Lost in all this dialogue is the fact that although the state legislature is exempt from paying any social security tax for its employees as it was to pay into its retirement account, it has not and currently pays no matching percentage into what has become an entirely worker funded retirement plan.

All this back and forth about Richard Moore is wasted breath. What other employer do you know gets away with this type of behavior? IF they were matching the STate Employees mandated contribution (yes they have no choice in contributing or how much to contribute) the fund would be in fine shape.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

lot of defense stocks in the portfolio

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

Yes, facts are facts. And the fact is that there is less money in the fund than there was eight years ago.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

What's not said here is the justification (given such great losses) of Cowell's predecessor doubling the salaries of the Chief Investment Officer and two Investment Directors just prior to leaving office.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

I guess you're having a hard time, some of you, with the fact that our state pension fund is either the healthiest or the second healthiest (I forget which) in the country. Go ahead and hate on Richard Moore all you want to, but facts are facts.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

She is. She's also smart and capable and will make this state proud.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

Is it just me... or is Janet a total babe?


Nicely written, Mr. Burns.

I'll try to live up to your eKKxpecKKtations in future CRIMINAL-LADEN posts!!!!

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

Cornbread, don't go introducing facts and, heaven forbid, context into a discussion in the comments at Under the Dome! You're supposed to jump in here and accuse Easley of criminality, say all DemoCRAKKKs are evil and generally make an idiot of yourself.

Come on, you can do better than to post a rational comment like that!

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

The "stewardship of Cowell's predecessor" has resulted in the value of the fund being lower than when he took over eight years ago, despite the fact that much more money has been added than has been taken out. That is not a good record. Cowell has only been in charge for a few days and had no control whatever of what happened before, since the Treasurer is the sole trustee.

If you want to speak of "predecessors," you ought to speak of Harlan Boyles, who not only presided over the fund's growth from about 75% funding to over 100%, but who also saw to it that pensioners received regular and fair increases.

Richard Moore, as is well known, and widely reported, accepted over a million dollars in campaign contributions from managers and firms to whom he steered the fund's investments. This is not illegal in North Carolina, though it is in some states. But it seems unethical to most people. Moore used these donations to conduct a campaign for governor that included tactics rebuked by former Governor Jim Hunt, who had previously been a sponsor of Moore's career.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

The fund administrators should be sued for malfeasance. Pension funds should consist of low risk investments, not the stock market. There will always be those who have to show others that they can do the best, but, as you see, in the long run they are not the winners. Bragging that NC is better off than other states does not negate the 20% loss.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

Didn't Easley take some of this money to balance the budget in his first term?????

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

Other year-over-year comparisons would be good in this report.

DOW is down 35% over a year ago. S&P 500 is down 39% over a year ago. NASDAQ is down 37% over a year ago. (estimates)

What's Berkshire Hathaway's 52 week change?

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

I don't think anyone is surprised that the pension fund is affected along with everything else in this market. It is still very strong, still a standout among all the states in this union, and that is still due to the stewardship of Cowell's predecessor. Cowell herself will do an excellent job to keep maintain NC's strong position.

Re: Cowell: Pension fund down 19 percent

Among the various implications of this news are these:

1. The fund is worth less than it was eight years ago, despite the fact that billions more have been added to it than have been withdrawn in pension payments.

2. The fund is down 25% from its peak value.

3. The fund no longer covers all future obligations; it is no longer 100% funded. This is not merely a problem for retirees and future retirees; their pensions are a fixed obligation of the state government.

4. $20 billion has vanished--and none of this has been paid out to retirees; raises in benefits have been minimal in recent years, not to say stingy.

5. The income from that vanished $20 billion alone would be sufficient to cover the current shortfall of the state health plan. There is much talk about the $300 million shortfall, but $20 billion is 67 TIMES $300 million.

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