Yale endowment posts 12.5% return

Endowment
Photo by Yale Daily News.

Yale earned a 12.5 percent return on its investments during the fiscal year that ended June 30, the University announced Tuesday.

The endowment grew over the latest fiscal period from $19.3 billion to $20.8 billion, its highest mark since it peaked at roughly $22.9 billion in fiscal year 2008. After losing nearly a quarter its value due to the onset of the nationwide economic recession, the endowment has been regaining ground ever since, with the exception of the 2012 fiscal year, when the size of the endowment dipped slightly because the University’s spending outpaced growth.

This year’s performance is in line with those at three other top universities that have released their fiscal year 2013 returns so far. Provost Benjamin Polak told the News he is “delighted” with the endowment’s performance.

Yale’s 12.5 percent return for the latest fiscal period is higher than Harvard’s 11.1 percent and MIT’s 11.3 percent but lower than the University of Pennsylvania’s 14.4 percent return. Most universities have yet to release their fiscal year 2013 results.

Though the return is significantly greater than the 4.7 percent performance the University posted in fiscal year 2012, Yale’s investments did not fare as well as the S&P 500 stock market index, which saw a total return of 20.6 percent during fiscal 2013.

Experts interviewed before Yale announced this year’s endowment performance forecasted returns as high as 16 percent in light of the success of the stock market this year. But Polak told the News in a Tuesday email that Yale’s endowment is made up of a variety of different investments and asset classes, many of which are not influenced by the highs and lows of the stock market.

“Our investment portfolio is very diversified,” he said. “This means it sometimes does less well but often does much, much better than domestic stocks.”

Under the guidance of Chief Investment Officer David Swensen — who pioneered the shift toward more diversified investment portfolios in the ’80s, a strategy commonly known as the “Yale model” — the University holds only about 6 percent of its endowment assets in domestic equities and allocates the majority of its assets toward private equity, real estate and absolute return.

Swensen told the News last spring that he believes his investing principles provide the most effective way to structure a portfolio. He declined to comment for this story.

Polak added that Yale deliberately keeps its endowment from depending too highly on the U.S. stock market because other sources of funding for the University such as federal grants and private gifts already correlate with the stock market.

Roger Ibbotson, a finance professor at the Yale School of Management, said he expects Yale will end up being “somewhere in the middle” compared to other Ivy League schools’ fiscal 2013 returns.

He added that he does not expect the Yale endowment to return to the “exceptional” track record it enjoyed in the boom years leading up to the recession, when the endowment saw returns in the mid-20 percent range for several years in a row.

“I think that the world in many ways is fundamentally riskier than it was 10 to 20 years ago,” Swensen told the News last spring. “There are lots of stresses and imbalances in the global economy that create an unusual level of uncertainty. So I have fairly normal return expectations but abnormally high concern about fundamental risks.”

Since the University uses a “spending rule” to smooth out the effects of good and bad years for the endowment on the University’s operating budget, Polak said the effect of an endowment return on the next year’s budget is relatively small.

Yale’s annual target endowment return is approximately 7.5 percent, which allows the University to spend about 5 percent of the endowment each year and account for inflation while maintaining the purchasing power of the endowment, Polak said.

Each additional 1 percent beyond the target return adds about $2 million to help the overall University budget the next year, he said.

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