The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) investment committee has approved a restructuring of the plan’s infrastructure investments portfolio guidelines to allow for more investments in overseas projects in efforts to expand the program and boost already strong returns.
The $4.4 billion infrastructure program makes up just 1.3% of CalPERS’s overall $245.6 billion portfolio, but its investment results stand out.
The infrastructure portfolio returned 17.3% net for the one-year period ended Oct.31, 12.8% for the three-year period, 14.7% for the five-year period, and 15% for the 10-year period. (CalPERS 12-month fiscal results for the period ending June 30, 2018, showed infrastructure returns were even higher at 20.6%.)
The restructuring allows CalPERS to invest up to 60% of infrastructure investments in international developed countries, up from the current 50%, and decreases the minimum amount that can be invested in US projects to 40% of the infrastructure portfolio from 50%.
The CalPERS infrastructure portfolio is currently made up of 55% US investments and 45% overseas.
International infrastructure assets in developed markets have had particularly strong returns for CalPERS, particularly core international investments, which posted a 41% return for the 12-month fiscal year ending June 30, shows a report by the Meketa Investment Group, the system’s infrastructure consultant.
The September report said that CalPERS had a 29% infrastructure allocation to core international assets.
Meketa said the international core assets were “a key component of Core’s impressive returns” overall, including the US. The core assets produced a 25% return for the fiscal year-ending June 30.
Paul Mouchakkaa, CalPERS’s managing investment director for real assets, played up diversification
in explaining the infrastructure guideline changes at an investment committee meeting on Dec. 17.
“There’s a significant portion of US deals that come in the power and energy space,” he said. “And in order for us to achieve better diversification, we believe this is a measured and thorough approach to allow us to have a broader exposure across different sectors in the infrastructure landscape,” he said.
Mouchakkaa said the infrastructure guidelines change also gives CalPERS “more flexibility
to scale the infrastructure portfolio so that we’re not boxed in focusing only on one geography.”
CalPERS Board President Priva Mathur told fellow investment committee members that she felt the guidelines change was prudent and would not increase investment risk.
“I think this is a sensible and prudent response to the structure of the markets,” she said. “We were hoping that with this current administration’s focus on infrastructure, we would see more deal flow here in the US in the space that we would find attractive,” she said.
A key proposed initiative of President Trump was funding $1.5 trillion in US infrastructure projects but the plan never got off the ground because there was no agreement in Congress on how it could be funded.
Because of strong returns, competition among institutional investors has been intense for investing in infrastructure assets. CalPERS would like to have at least 2% of its assets invested in infrastructure.
Still, its program has grown due to new investments and strong results, from $2.3 billion back in 2015 to $4.4. billion today.
One of CalPERS biggest international partnerships is with QIC, a large Australian money manager.
While the investment is in the early stages, The CalPERS QIC partnership returned a 12.5% for the 12-month fiscal year ended June 30, 2018, shows CalPERS data.
CalPERS had invested $464 million in the QIC partnership as of June 30.