Though the nosedive in Harvard’s endowment may have come as a surprise to many Cantabs, heads of the university were repeatedly warned that their investment strategies were risky business, the Boston Globe reported Sunday.
Earlier this year, Harvard admitted that it had lost $1.8 billion in cash from its day-to-day operating budget by investing those funds with the rest of its endowment capital. According to the Globe, investment heads at Harvard’s endowment management company repeatedly warned Harvard’s president and trustees over the past decade that the university should not risk gambling its cash away.
Though investing cash from the basic operating budget paid off with huge returns in boom years as the stock market rose, it disappeared when the financial markets crumbled in fall 2008. And that loss was on top of a nearly 30 percent drop in its endowment. The depletion has forced Harvard to make deep budget cuts, delay its expansion plans, and sell billions of dollars of bonds to generate cash for its daily costs.
Harvard Management Co. head Jack Meyers and his successor Mohamed El-Erian warned Harvard’s then-president, Larry Summers, that investing so much cash was a dangerous gamble, the Globe said. Summers, a former U.S. Treasury secretary who left Harvard in 2006 after making controversial remarks about female scientists, wanted to invest all of the cash in Harvard’s bank accounts with the endowment; others convinced him to accept investing only 80 percent. By the time he left, cash in the operating account topped $6 billion, only to drop to less than $4 billion after the economic downturn.