Janet Lorin and Christine Harper of Bloomberg report, Yale's Swensen Sees Low Volatility as `Profoundly Troubling':
David Swensen, Yale University’s longtime chief investment officer, said the lack of market volatility in the current geopolitical environment is a major concern and warned that another crash is possible.
“When you compare the fundamental risks that we see all around the globe with the lack of volatility in our securities markets, it’s profoundly troubling,” Swensen, 63, said Tuesday during remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. That “makes me wonder if we’re not setting ourselves up for an ’87, or a ’98 or a 2008-2009,” he said, referring to previous market crises.
“The defining moments for portfolio management” came in those years, “and if you ignore that you’re not going to be able to manage your portfolio,” Swensen said.
The investment chief, who was interviewed by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, also said he’s expecting lower returns for the university’s endowment, which he’s run for 32 years with a 13.5 percent average annual rate of return.
For the past 12 to 18 months, Swensen said he has been warning university officials to expect much lower returns in the future, as little as 5 percent annually, which would be down from previous assumptions of 8.25 percent.
“It’s not a very popular change,” he said. “We’re victims of our own success.”
Swensen’s widely copied strategy of shifting away from U.S. stocks to alternatives including private equity has generated billions of dollars in gains for the school in New Haven, Connecticut. The fund reached a record of $27.2 billion as of midyear.
“We have to take strategic positions in the portfolio,” Swensen told an overflow crowd. “One of the most important metrics that we look at is the percentage of the portfolio that’s in what we call uncorrelated assets, and that’s a combination of absolute return, cash and short-term bonds. Those are the assets that would protect the endowment in the event of a market crisis.”
Asked why Yale’s uncorrelated assets are higher now than in 2008, he said, "I’m not worried about the economy so much, what I’m concerned about is valuation."
Janet Lorin of Bloomberg also reports that Mr. Swensen talked about China, quants, and manager selection:
Yale University chief investment officer David Swensen, in a rare public appearance, spoke Tuesday to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin at the Council on Foreign Relations.
During the hour-long session, Swensen, 63, disclosed that annualized returns over his 32-year tenure have been 13.5 percent, higher than the endowment’s assumption of 8.25 percent a year.
Swensen said he favors private equity and doesn’t like quants, and talked about his efforts to get university officials to lower expectations for future returns. The endowment has swelled to a record $27.2 billion, the second-largest in U.S. higher education.
During the interview, Swensen shared thoughts about investing and opportunities:
On where to invest: “The types of questions that you need to ask with respect to where you are investing are the bedrock for putting together your asset allocation. When I look around the world, there are places that we just won’t invest. Russia. If the rule of law does not follow, then do you know whether or not you own anything? And if you don’t know whether or not you own it, then why would you put your funds there? As we look around the world in spite of the problems we face in the United States, this is one of the best environments in which to invest. I think that the breadth of emerging markets that we were interested in 20 years ago has narrowed dramatically.”
On China: His level of concern about China has been “pretty constant” over the past 12 or 18 months. “China is an area that makes me incredibly nervous, but at the same time, we’re heavily committed there. I’ve had great relationships with a handful of managers in China that have produced extraordinary returns. The party commitment to capitalism doesn’t seem as steadfast as I might have thought five or ten years ago.” ...MORE