U.S. Markets

White House makes appointments that could impact pension fund decision to invest in China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Monday named three nominees to sit on a board that oversees federal employee pension funds, a move that could see the reversal of a decision to allow one of the funds to invest in Chinese companies under scrutiny from Washington.

If confirmed by the Senate, the three individuals would sit on the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) which administers the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), a retirement savings fund similar to a 401(k) for federal employees and members of the military.

The three men - Frank Dunlevy, Christopher Bancroft Burnham, and John M. Barger - would join the five-member board where they would serve two to four years, the White House said. The new appointees would replace three members whose terms have expired.

With its own appointees now forming a majority, the White House could potentially win a reversal of the board’s 2017 decision to allow the TSP’s $50 billion international fund to track an index that includes some China-based stocks of companies accused of human rights abuses, violating sanctions, and aiding the Chinese military.

Among the Chinese companies in the index that have drawn the ire of some in Washington is surveillance firm Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, which was placed on a trade blacklist last year because its technology is used in detention camps for China’s Uigher Muslim minorities.

The fund would also invest in telecoms equipment company ZTE 000063.SZ, which was penalized by the U.S. government for violating sanctions, as well as aircraft and avionics company Aviation Industry Corporation of China, which provides weapons for the Chinese military.

The move to track the fund was slated to take place in the second half of 2020, but Reuters reported last month that lawmakers and former officials were making a last-ditch push to persuade the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to halt those plans.

When a consultant cited higher returns were possible, the FRTIB decided in 2017 to switch the benchmark for its international stock fund in 2020 to the MSCI All Country World ex-U.S.A. Investable Market Index, which represents 99% of world equities, including Canada, China and other emerging markets.

The board, which has already begun opening custodial accounts for the change, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Alexandra Alper, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien