SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The nation’s largest public pension, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, expects to reveal this week how much private equity firms take as a profit from its $28.8 billion investment in that asset class.
Such a disclosure is unusual among large, institutional investors in private equity and one sure to be noticed by other state and city pension funds.
Private equity investments are sought for their returns, but the industry faces increased political and regulatory scrutiny over high fees and lack of transparency.
CalPERS, ranked the seventh-largest investor in private equity with roughly one percent of the market, is making an effort to buck the trend. Carried interest, or the profits kept by private equity firms, is rarely reported by public pension funds, which often only track net investment returns.
CalPERS faced questions earlier this year about how much private equity firms collected in fees from the pension fund. Staff was forced to admit they did not exactly know.
“They should have been calculating it all along,” said Steven Kaplan, University Chicago Booth School of Business professor. “That’s one thing you do when you do diligence on a fund. You want to look at performance before fees.”
Reporting on fund fees charged to investors, also known as limited partners, has not followed a single accepted standard.
“There is an incredible appetite among investors to see more detail in a more uniform format,” said Jennifer Choi, managing director at the Institutional Limited Partners Association (ILPA). “Everybody has different ways of asking and receiving information.”
CalPERS has been working with ILPA to set a standard for disclosure. It is also constructing a database to track all fund expenses and costs.
“What we want to know, as a limited partner, is every single cash flow between the general partner, the fund, and the portfolio companies,” said Scott Jacobsen, an investment director on CalPERS’ private equity team.
“Smart consumers know the cost of a purchase, be it an automobile or a private equity investment,” said South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis, whose state started tracking fees in 2013. “It was a lonely road for a long time.”
Private equity returned 8.9 percent to CalPERS in the fiscal year ending June 30, compared to 1 percent from public equities and 2.4 percent overall. The asset class has consistently outperformed the fund’s overall assumed return rate of 7.5 percent, but it has also routinely over the past decade missed CalPERS’ benchmarks.