Possible CalPERS Coronavirus Case Forces Investment Meeting Cancellation

The CalPERS headquarters was also closed Monday, the same day as the scheduled meeting.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s (CalPERS) Investment Committee meeting scheduled for Monday was canceled after a pension system employee showed symptoms of the coronavirus.

The pension system, the largest in the US by assets, also closed its headquarters in downtown Sacramento on Monday to clean and disinfect its office, said Chief Executive Officer Marcie Frost.

“CalPERS is taking this action after an employee showed symptoms of the virus,” Frost said in a statement. “The employee went home immediately and has been self-isolating. The work area was also cleaned and disinfected. The employee has been tested for COVID-19 and is waiting on the results.”

Frost did not disclose if the employee was a member of CalPERS’ 400-plus staff Investment Office, the largest of any institutional investor in the US. It is not clear when the pension will get the employee’s results back.

At the meeting that was postponed, CalPERS Chief Investment Officer Ben Meng was expected to give details of the pension plan’s losses in the past several weeks due to stock market volatility spurred by the coronavirus crisis.

The last publicly released data as of Thursday shows the CalPERS portfolio was around $353 billion, a drop of more than $50 billion from just two weeks earlier.

CalPERS’ overall assets are now believed to much lower than the $353 billion with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping by almost 13% yesterday. The last time CalPERS disclosed its stock results was on Dec. 31, when the pension had $206 billion in its equity portfolio.

Total equity losses could be more than $60 billion since then.

Frost said the pension plan will also begin implementing work from home protocols to protect employees. A large part of CalPERS’ investment portfolio is internally managed.

“To assist in implementing social distancing, CalPERS will take initial steps to begin transitioning some employees to telework where operationally feasible,” she said.

It was not announced how many investment staffers could work from home. CalPERS Board President Henry Jones has said the pension system was working on contingency plans for the investment office to continue to operate despite practicing social distancing.

“The safety of our members, team members, and the public who visit our offices is our top priority,” Frost said. “We are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution.”

The pension fund has also canceled its other committee meetings scheduled for today. The cancellations include CalPERS’ Pension & Health Benefits Committee and Board Governance Committee. 

Frost said the canceled committee meetings will be moved to the CalPERS Board meetings scheduled for April 20 and 21.

She said the full CalPERS Board will convene via teleconference on Wednesday to act on proposed Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) matters. Those matters usually involve disputes by retirees over individual pension benefits

During the closure on Monday, Frost said the CalPERS Investment Office was to conduct business off-site or through telework.

The  investment committee meeting that had been scheduled for Monday would have involved nine of the 13 board members.

All 13 board members used to sit on the investment committee, but a restructure of CalPERS board governance system late last year reduced the number of board members.

It also reduced the number of Investment Committee meetings from nine a year to at least six a year.

Monday’s meeting was the first scheduled since last November.

Because of the growing coronavirus concern in California, board members would have been separated from each other by six feet during the investment committee and other meetings this week.

Frost, in a letter to board members last week, said the public also would have been separated from the board. She said the public would have been put in a separate room to watch the meetings on television screens because of concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.

The changes by CalPERS as to how it conducts its meetings will likely be imitated by other large pension systems across the United States as more states ramp up rules ending large meetings and put in social distancing edicts.

On Monday, the California legislature also suspended sessions for the next month, in what is believed to be its first unexpected work stoppage in 158 years.

California has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus crisis. It recorded nearly 400 coronavirus cases, and 11 of the approximately 85 deaths in the US have occurred in the state.


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