Harvard endowment grows by 7 to 9 percent

In a sign of what could be in store for Yale’s endowment, Harvard University’s endowment reportedly grew by 7 to 9 percent in the last fiscal year despite the rough economic climate.

Citing people familiar with the returns, The Wall Street Journal reported in its Thursday edition that Harvard, with its nation-leading $34.9 billion endowment, is believed to have weathered the financial storm far better than many other institutional investors who were hurt by the slumping stock market and subprime crisis.

By comparison, the S&P 500 index dropped 14.9 percent in the fiscal year ending June 30. Endowments tracked by a Chicago bank, Northern Trust, fell an average of 3.1 percent in that time.

Yet Harvard’s endowment posted a respectable gain in part because of investments in hedge funds and commodities, according to the people cited in the Journal and in another report by Bloomberg News. That strategy — of favoring so-called alternative investments like hedge funds, oil and timber rather than strictly stocks and bonds — is a hallmark of Yale’s chief investment officer, David Swensen.

That could bode well for Yale. Indeed, this winter, several economists interviewed by the News predicted that despite the rough economic state, the University would fare better than most institutional investors because of its emphasis on alternative investments rather than merely equities.

“The schools that have diversified outside of stocks and bonds, their portfolio is not as linked to the stock market as others,” said Roger Kaufman, an economist at Smith College. “If they have created their portfolio appropriately, then their diversification should reduce the decline in their assets.”

Time will tell. Yale will announce its returns in late September, a University official said Thursday.

With a 9-percent return, Harvard’s endowment would grow to approximately $38 billion. Such a return is roughly in line with a July analysis by The Harvard Crimson, which calculated that in the first 10 months of the fiscal year, Harvard’s endowment posted an estimated return of 9 percent.

Yale’s $22.5 billion endowment stands second only to Harvard’s. Under Swensen’s guide, it grew 28 percent last year, the best performance of any major university endowment in the country.

Harvard’s endowment, notably, is now shepherded by an Eli. Jane Mendillo ’80 SOM ’84, the former chief investment officer at Wellesley College and a former student of University President Richard Levin, took the helm of the Harvard Management Company last month.


  • been to both

    All prosperity to Harvard, but caution is warranted here. The Journal's article ("puff piece" is a more accurate term) is odd and selective, to say the least. Among other things the Journal obscures: (1) the Journal information is an unauthorized "leak" by some individual with an agenda (Harvard and its management company refused comment on the Journal numbers), (2) the Harvard endowment does not report for another month, (3) Northern Trust does not track the Harvard endowment, (4) whether the Harvard money managers have done well is to be determined by comparision to a special index of endowments and similar funds, not to the S&P or other equity index, (5) Harvard's endowment was famously called a "hedge fund" by its former manager, Jack Meyer, and many hedge funds have done far better than equities this year, (6) few endowments have reported this year, but one that has is the University of Virginia's, which claims 7.8% growth, an amount quite on par with the weirdly ambiguous 7% - 9% Harvard returns reported by the Journal.

  • Yah

    When I was there, I think Yale's endowment was something like 1.2 versus Harvard's 4.something.

    Swenson has done a capital job!

  • msoltan

    “No one will expect the principle investigator…”

    That should be **principal.**