UPenn's endowment gains 1.6 pct in fiscal 2012

Fri Sep 21, 2012 4:37pm EDT

* Endowments seen reporting more tepid returns

* Returns hurt by weaker international equities

* Harvard and Yale to announce results soon

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - The University of Pennsylvania said on Friday that its endowment gained 1.6 percent during the 2012 fiscal year, giving a first glimpse at what analysts say will be weaker returns at many of the nation's top colleges and universities.

Penn said its endowment stood at $6.8 billion at the end of June, up from the $6.58 billion reported a year ago when the school earned an 18.6 percent gain on its assets.

Fellow Ivy League schools Harvard and Yale, which both reported double-digit investment returns last year, are expected to release their numbers soon.

Fiscal 2012's results will be much weaker than the past year's gains, analysts forecast, citing Europe's lingering debt crisis, which has weighed on international stocks.

Modest returns at some of the country's biggest public pension funds already have foreshadowed what likely happened at endowments as well, analysts say. The California Public Employees Retirement System and North Carolina's state pension fund each reported low single-digit gains.

Kristin Gilbertson, Penn's chief investment officer, said the university benefited most from illiquid alternatives like real estate, natural resources and private equity, which were the year's top performers.

All asset classes except for international equities and emerging markets posted positive returns, she said.

The bulk of the school's assets are invested in the Associated Investments Fund.

This year's more modest returns come only a few years after many pension funds and endowments lost billions of dollars during the financial crisis. Penn said its endowment has been above its pre-crisis high-water mark since 2010.

Even more attention will be focused on how Harvard University, the world's richest school with a $32 billion endowment, when it reports its results. In July, Jane Mendillo, who oversees the school's endowment as chief executive of Harvard Management Co, said it may increase its natural resource investments as a way to grow the endowment.

Returns at Harvard and Yale, whose endowment reached $19.4 billion last year, have long been studied in the investment industry for clues about new trends, particularly after both schools were among the first to make big investments in hedge funds and private equity funds.

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