CalPERS Hedge Funds; No Fee Break Here

CalPERS’ $4 billion hedge fund portfolio will cause barely a ripple in the $2.5 trillion hedge fund industry as it’s redeemed over the next several quarters. Some speculate that their decision will cause other public pension funds to re-examine their commitment to hedge funds, although you’re unlikely to find a public pension trustee who will admit to being a follower.

What struck me most about this news though was the fees CalPERS paid. They disclosed a 7.1% net return on their $4 billion portfolio during their last fiscal year, as well as $135 million in fees. In recent years there’s been some anecdotal evidence that the ubiquitous “2 & 20” (2% management fee and 20% profit share) was coming down. That may be so, but you wouldn’t know it from CalPERS’ experience.

They don’t disclose their actual fee structure, but an educated guess is possible. Given the information provided (investment size, net return and fee expense) 1.9 and 19 (i.e. a 1.9% management fee and 19% incentive fee) would make the numbers add up. 2 and 18.5 also works. Given that CalPERS has a reputation as one of the most aggressive negotiators of investment terms, it’s surprising that their realized fees during their last fiscal year were so close to the traditional 2 & 20.

Now, it’s possible that some of their funds lost money, which doesn’t alter their effective fee but could mean that they’d negotiated lower incentive fees but had failed to benefit. There are no negative incentive fees. And CalPERS does include funds of hedge funds in their portfolio so that again may understate the fee savings they negotiated with individual managers.

Nonetheless, it still adds up to $1 of fees for every $2 in investment return. Nice business for some.

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