University | 8:09 pm | October 25, 2012 | By Sophie Gould

U.S. colleges’ endowments average 0.3 percent loss

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Photo by Blair Seideman.

Though Yale posted a 4.7 percent return on its endowment for fiscal year 2012, U.S. colleges and universities reported an average 0.3 percent loss on their endowments for the same period, according to a preliminary study released Thursday by the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO).

The 0.3 percent loss marks a sharp drop from the 19.2 percent gain observed in fiscal year 2011. The report — compiled by NACUBO and the Commonfund Institution — took data from 463 educational institutions and shows that this year, the largest educational endowments produced higher average investment returns than their smaller counterparts, and that many universities used investment strategies similar to Yale’s.

Returning to a longtime trend, larger endowments — particularly those valuing more than $1 billion — outperformed smaller ones this year, NACUBO President and Chief Executive Officer John Walda and Commonfund Institute Executive Director John Griswold said in a joint statement, adding that this pattern had been reversed during the financial crisis of 2007-’09.

During those years, “smaller institutions tended to outperform owing to their larger allocations to fixed income and short-term securities,” Walda and Griswold said.

The average return for endowments larger than $1 billion was 1.2 percent in fiscal year 2012, a figure that Yale’s endowment outperformed by 3.5 percentage points.

Yale’s early use of alternative assets — which include private equity, absolute return hedge funds, distressed debt, timber properties and other real assets — has been widely emulated among the largest endowments. Institutions with assets over $1 billion invested 59 percent of their endowment assets in alternative strategies this year, while those with less than $25 million held only 14 percent in alternative asset categories.

Still, the anemic overall performance was insufficient to fund the approximate 5 percent draw that most educational institutions take from their endowments each year.

The final report, which will be released in January, will reflect data from over 800 colleges and universities.

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