creators.com opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
David Sirota
David Sirota
18 Apr 2014
Will Government Use Its New Leverage Over the Financial Industry?

If you read one business book this year, make it "Flash Boys" by Michael Lewis. The journalist famous for "Moneyball"… Read More.

11 Apr 2014
The Chicago Way

In America, there is regular ol' corruption, and then there is Chicago Corruption, with a capital "C." America'… Read More.

4 Apr 2014
The Labor Market's Double Standards

Technology, sports and politics are distinct worlds. They have their own junkies, their own vernaculars and … Read More.

Wall Street's Secret Swindle

Comment

In the national debate over what to do about public pension shortfalls, here's something you may not know: The texts of the agreements signed between those pension funds and financial firms are almost always secret. Yes, that's right. Although they are public pensions that taxpayers contribute to and that public officials oversee, the exact terms of the financial deals being engineered in the public's name and with public money are typically not available to you, the taxpayer.

To understand why that should be cause for concern, ponder some possibilities as they relate to pension deals with hedge funds, private equity partnerships and other so-called "alternative investments." For example, it is possible that the secret terms of such agreements could allow other private individuals in the same investments to negotiate preferential terms for themselves, meaning public employees' pension money enriches those private investors. It is also possible that the secret terms of the agreements create the heads-Wall-Street-wins, tails-pensions-lose effect — the one whereby retirees' money is subjected to huge risks, yet financial firms' profits are guaranteed regardless of returns.

North Carolina exemplifies the latter problem. In a new report for the union representing that state's public employees, former Securities and Exchange Commission investigator Ted Siedle documents how secrecy is allowing financial firms to bilk the Teachers' and State Employees' Retirement System, which is the seventh largest public pension fund in America.

The first part of Siedle's report evaluates the secrecy.

"Today, TSERS assets are directly invested in approximately 300 funds and indirectly in hundreds more underlying funds, the names, investment practices, portfolio holdings, investment performances, fees, expenses, regulation, trading and custodian banking arrangements of which are largely unknown to stakeholders, the State Auditor and, indeed, to even the (State) Treasurer and her staff," he reports.

"As a result of the lack of transparency and accountability at TSERS, it is virtually impossible for stakeholders to know the answers to questions as fundamental as who is managing the money, what is it invested in and where is it?"

Before you claim this is just a minor problem, consider some numbers. According to Siedle's report, this huge pension system now is authorized to invest up to 35 percent — or $30 billion — of its assets in alternatives. Consider, too, that Siedle's report shows that with such a large allocation in these risky alternatives, the fund "has underperformed the average public plan by $6.8 billion."

So what is happening to retirees' money? As Siedle documents, more and more of it is going to pay the exorbitant fees charged by the Wall Street firms managing the pension money.

"Fees have skyrocketed over 1,000 percent since 2000 and have almost doubled since (2008) from $217 million to $416 million," he writes, adding that "annual fees and expenses will amount to approximately $1 billion in the near future."

The details get worse from there, which makes Siedle's report a genuine must-read for anyone who wants to understand the larger story of public pensions. After all, North Carolina is not an isolated incident. In state after state, the financial industry is citing modest public pension shortfalls to justify pushing those pensions to invest more money in riskier and riskier high-fee investments — and to do so in secret.

It is a story that isn't some minor issue. On the contrary, the fight over that $3 trillion is fast becoming one of the most important economic, business and political stories of modern times. The only question is whether the story can even be told — or whether those profiting off secrecy can continue hiding their schemes from the public.

David Sirota is a staff writer at PandoDaily and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." Email him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM



Comments

0 Comments | Post Comment
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right:  
Creators.com comments policy
More
David Sirota
Apr. `14
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
30 31 1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 1 2 3
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Linda Chavez
Linda ChavezUpdated 25 Apr 2014
Patrick Buchanan
Pat BuchananUpdated 25 Apr 2014
Susan EstrichUpdated 25 Apr 2014

4 Jun 2010 From Shared Sacrifice to Hedonism

5 Sep 2008 Making Goliath Walk

14 Feb 2014 PBS Becoming the Plutocrats Broadcasting Service