U.S. Economy Has Endowment Investments Staying Put

May 29, 2018       Mark Hrywna      

Only 4 percent of endowment and foundation managers think the U.S. economy is worse compared to this time last year, with almost six out of 10 (58 percent) saying it’s in better shape than a year ago.

Almost out of five managers (38 percent) said the economy is in the same place, according to results of a survey of endowments and foundations by NEPC, LLC.

The Boston-headquartered investment consulting firm, which represents some $62 billion in endowment and foundation assets, released results of the survey today.

Only about 16 percent of endowments and foundations repositioned their portfolios because of recent market volatility, and even among those the strategies varied. Three-quarters of respondents said they’ve made no changes in response to recent market volatility.

Among the 16 percent that did make changes, 6 percent had adjusted equity exposure to focus less on U.S. equities, while 4 percent increased cash holdings, 4 percent decreased exposure to equities, and 2 percent adjusted equity exposure to focus more on U.S. equities.

Most respondents in the survey — almost 81 percent — believe the recent uptick in market volatility will be a longer-term trend of more than one year.

Foundations and endowments managers don’t seem too worried about a trade war between the U.S. and China. Only 11 percent said they had no concern while the same proportion also had a “very high” level of concern but the vast majority (78 percent) expressed a “moderate” level of concern.

Geopolitical tensions (38 percent) and political uncertainty (19 percent) pose the greatest threats to the investment program over the near term, according to respondents, followed by rising interest rates (11 percent), global inflation (8.5 percent), and federal reserve action (6 percent). “Other” was cited by 17 percent.

A broad emerging markets strategy is the primarily exposure to China for most portfolios (72 percent). About 8.5 percent reported no direct exposure to China and the same level reported a China-focused private equity or private debt strategy.

“Our survey results show that while investors recognize the impact geopolitics could have on their portfolios, they haven’t made drastic changes to their investment strategies in response,” Cathy Konicki, partner in NEPC’s Endowment and Foundation Practice, said in a press release announcing the survey results. “While vigilance is always prudent, we recommend endowments and foundations maintain focus on their long-term objectives despite today’s unpredictable environment,” she said.

The portfolios of more than 60 percent of respondents had anywhere from 11 to 30 percent dedicated to alternative investments. About one in eight endowments and foundations had more than 30 percent in alternative investments while about one in five had anywhere from 6 to 10 percent.

Within alternative investments, hedge funds (49 percent) were by far the most likely to benefit from increased market volatility, respondents said. Private equity (17 percent), real estate/real assets (13 percent) and commodities (12 percent) also expect to benefit. On the other hand, private equity (59 percent) was the most popular answer to the quest ion of which alternative investment is expected to generate the greatest return over the next here to five years, and to a lesser extent, hedge funds (15 percent), commodities (11 percent) and real estate/real assets (9 percent).

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