Calpers, the nation's largest public pension fund, does not face moral hazard despite state guarantees of pension solvency, the funds chief investment officer said on CNBC on Wednesday, in comments responding to a Reuters report.
Does the ultimate taxpayer guarantee mean we take excessive risk? No, California Public Employees' Retirement System Chief Investment Officer Joseph Dear said, when asked if the prospect of a state bailout if the fund ran low on funds created incentives to take extra risk.
Public policy and financial industry experts and officials in a Reuters special report on Calpers risk management published last week argued that the California pension system's risk management policies put taxpayers at risk and needed reforming.
Well, all pension funds for the public sector have the nature of a public taxpayer backup for what we do, Dear said on CNBC.
Calpers has told government agencies using the fund to manage their pensions that their contribution rates to the system are at risk of rising as a result of the fund's losses.
Critics note the California state guarantee of Calpers is more clear than the implicit federal promise to save Wall Street banks too big to fail. The Wall Street bank bailouts sparked widespread debates about moral hazard, the idea that bailouts only encourage risk taking.
Calpers recently raised its asset allocation to private equity, considered one of the riskiest areas of investment. A rise in the commitment to private equity in June to 14 percent of the fund from 10 percent looked gigantic, Dear said, but reflected the reality that the fund's allocation had already passed its 10 percent target, hitting 13 percent.
Again, if you have a long horizon and you have a reasonable return target, and you have a globally diversified portfolio, you'll be able to make, in our case, 7.75 percent return we need, he said.
Other financial professionals quoted in the report questioned that outlook. Laurence Fink, chief of gargantuan asset manager BlackRock told the Calpers board in July he didn't think the fund would hit its target 7.75 percent return target. I think it's going to be subpar for many years, he said, suggesting that cuts in benefits be considered.