Gates Foundation loses money, still ups spending

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Gates Foundation has lost about 20 percent of its assets in the economic recession but will still increase spending on global health, education and other causes, Microsoft MSFT.O founder Bill Gates said on Monday.

He said it was more important to help society than to maintain the non-profit, Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s endowment.

“Looking specifically at the foundation, our assets decreased in value by about 20 percent in 2008. I never thought I would say losing 20 percent is a reasonable result, but it is better than most endowments because so many asset classes went down by more than 20 percent in 2008,” Gates said in a letter to the public.

He said in recent years, the foundation had spent “a bit over 5 percent” of its assets each year, or $3.3 billion, to support vaccines, AIDS care, malaria research and other programs.

“In 2009, instead of reducing this amount, we are choosing to increase it to $3.8 billion, which is about 7 percent of our assets,” Gates wrote.

He said he would encourage governments to spend more, too.

“I highlight the fact that (for) most causes, the needs are more acute than they have ever been,” Gates told reporters in a conference call.

“We really haven’t seen foreign assistance cut by most of the countries,” he said. “We are not yet suffering a lot in terms of aid generosity.”

He said many charitable organizations are likely suffering, as well, but he would encourage them to look at the possibility of spending more, rather than less, in these tough times.

“When a million children die of malaria a year and you say you want to get rid of that, I don’t think the economic crisis changes the moral value of those lives being worth saving,” Gates said.

“The idea that you can save a year of life for less than a hundred dollars, for me that is very compelling.”

Investments in education pay off, also, Gates said. “That’s the key resource that makes the economy effective,” he said, adding that he was surprised the U.S. economy had been so strong for so long given how poorly the U.S. education system served the bottom-performing half of students.

Last week the foundation said it would spend $630 million along with Rotary International, to help finish the job of eradicating polio through vaccination programs.

Gates's letter also highlights childhood deaths, AIDS, malaria and U.S. education and is onlinehere

Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Cynthia Osterman