How Colleges Lost Billions to Hedge Funds in 2016

Charlie Eaton:

A peculiar thing happened in 2016. While the Dow Jones industrial average grew by more than 13 percent, college endowments saw nearly a negative 2 percent rate of return. The worst endowment performance took place at the nation’s wealthiest private institutions. Harvard’s endowment alone shrank by $2 billion, a 5-percent decline. Out of the 40 biggest endowments, 35 declined in value.

What’s going on here?

A key factor is poor performance by the hedge-fund gurus that institutions have increasingly paid to manage their investment portfolios. Colleges have reason to be angry because hedge funds charge high fees even when they lose money. Colleges and universities spent an estimated $2.5 billion on fees for hedge funds in 2015 alone. They paid an estimated 60 cents to hedge funds for every dollar in investment returns between 2009 and 2015, according to a report by the Strong Economy for All Coalition. These fees helped each of the top five U.S. hedge-fund managers earn more than $1 billion in 2015 despite mixed performance.