Learn This Lesson, Too, Rhode Island: Pension Returns

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No matter how many times I observe its being done, I’m always disconcerted when a government press release spins devastating news as a positive:

The Rhode Island pension fund finished well ahead of U.S. and global stock markets in December due to the defensively positioned investments in the fund’s portfolio. …

In the 12 months ending on December 31, 2018, the fund returned -2.69 percent, compared to a passive 60 percent stock and 40 percent bond portfolio, which would have returned -5.52 percent.

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The pension fund assumes an investment return (a “discount rate,” in this context) of 7% every year.  No matter how much better -2.69% might be from some arbitrary benchmark, it still means the fund came up short 9.69%.  To make up for that loss next year, the fund would have to achieve a 17.7% investment return.

This is the cycle repeated over and over again, and it’s time we all wised up enough that government officials would at least be embarrassed to spin it as a good thing.