Market Uncertainty Prompts North Dakota Investment Board to Review Asset Allocation

Oil-fueled ‘legacy fund’ goes under the microscope.

The North Dakota State Investment Board (SIB) recently conducted a thorough review of the target asset allocation for the state’s Legacy Fund after projecting “change and uncertainty in the capital markets.”

“We’ve seen broadly across a number of consulting firms and asset managers risk assets have appreciated since the crisis, and arguably return expectations have come down,” Deputy Chief Investment Officer Darren Schulz told CIO.

“When we engaged [our consultant,] Callan, we utilized their most recent capital markets projections,” he added, “which have come down because of the likelihood of generating returns at the same magnitude [since the recession] likely won’t happen over the coming periods.”

The North Dakota Legacy Fund is a pool of capital fueled by taxes on oil and gas produced and extracted in the state. It originated in the summer of 2011 and is valued at about $6 billion today. The SIB also manages $6 billion in public pension assets and a $2.3 billion insurance fund.

The SIB and  Callan laid out several potential asset allocation mixes to defy the projected volatility. They are summarized below:

Callan and the North Dakota Retirement and Investment Office (RIO) deemed the current target allocation to be “reasonable,” but sought to review mixes 2, 3 and 4 with the board based on its desire to reduce, hold, or increase “targeted” risk levels. 

But at the end of the day, Schulz and his team decided that the board will go “full steam ahead with the same strategy for now,” he told CIO. “It’s a fairly conservative asset allocation—steady as she goes. We’ll revisit it if we get some changes in spending [approximately 2-3% of the fund presently.]

“Any near-term volatility from risky assets is something we don’t have concerns about—we’re long-term investors,” he continued. “In the fourth quarter of 2018, we were well-positioned for rebalancing, given the weakness in equities [at the time] and we added some equity exposure to take advantage of that weakness.”

Schulz also commented on the strength of the oil and gas revenues flowing into the legacy fund. “The sheer magnitude of the revenues dwarfs the investment returns of the program—this is just a different beast. You’re getting about $60 million a month from oil and gas taxes. It’s like the Alaska Permanent Fund in 1987—the early stage of a commodity-driven sovereign wealth fund. “

The legacy fund is forecasted to reach $16 billion in 2028 under the current target allocation. It has an expected return of 5.82%, real return of 3.57%, standard deviation of 10.75%, and projected yield of 3.11%.

The SIB last reviewed the asset allocation of the legacy fund in 2013, the public employees’ and teachers’ retirement funds in 2016, and the insurance fund in 2017.

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