A year after Harvard’s endowment plunged 27.3 percent to $26 billion, the fund recovered 11 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30, climbing back to $27.4 billion.
Harvard’s endowment is the largest in higher education, followed by Yale’s, whose returns have not yet been released. The losses at Harvard last year prompted severe budget cuts that hit everything from campus construction to hot breakfasts in Harvard’s residential houses.
“It has been a productive year,” Harvard Management Company President and CEO Jane Mendillo wrote in a report on the investment returns. “In comparison to one year ago, our portfolio and our organization are significantly better positioned to continue to deliver strong long-term returns as well as actively manage our risks.”
Mendillo’s six-page report details how HMC has steered its endowment away from the Yale Model of institutional investing, pioneered by Yale Chief Investments Officer David Swensen. Swensen has stuck to his guns through the financial crisis, increasing Yale’s investments in so-called real assets such as private equity and real estate. Mendillo took a different tack, trying to give the Harvard endowment more liquidity, or ability to generate cash.
Harvard’s endowment may have grown, but it still trails a group of institutional funds studied by Wilshire Associates, a California consulting firm. The funds tracked by Wilshire returned a median of 13 percent in the past year.
Harvard is the first of the Ivy League to release its endowment results. Although Yale administrators have said they expect a positive gain this year, the results remain to be seen — along with whether Harvard will reinstate hot breakfast.