Institutional plan assets tracked by the Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service earned median returns of 4.21% for the year ending March 31, and 8.26% for the first quarter, which was the largest quarterly gain since the third quarter of 2009.
The Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index, which measures the performance of US equities, rose 14.11% during the first quarter and 8.93% for the year, while the MSCI AC World ex U.S., which tracks international equities, rose 10.31% for the quarter but was down 4.22% for the year. US bonds, represented by the Wilshire Bond Index, increased 5.17% during the first quarter, and 4.03% for the year.
“Nearly all asset classes delivered healthy returns for institutional investors during the first quarter,” Jason Schwarz, president, Wilshire Analytics and Wilshire Funds Management, said in a release. “Government bonds were buoyed by expectations of lower interest rates extending for a longer period of time. This was also supportive of riskier assets such as high yield bonds and equities, which rallied substantially higher off low valuations at the end of 2018.”
Large plans, defined by Wilshire as those with assets of more than $1 billion, posted median gains of 7.34% for the quarter, and 4.60% for the year. Meanwhile small plans—those with assets of less than $1 billion—outperformed large plans for the quarter, returning 8.69%, but underperformed for the year ending March 31 with a 4.06% return. However all plan types underperformed a 60% stock, 40% fixed income portfolio, which gained 10.08% during the quarter.
Median ranges across plan types for the quarter range from gains of 6.32% to 8.93% for Taft Hartley Health and Welfare Fund and multiemployer defined benefit plans, respectively. One-year medians ranged from gains of 3.87% to 4.70% for foundations and endowments, and for corporate funds with assets of more than $1 billion.
The performance was a big turnaround from the previous quarter when Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service assets lost 7.05% during the fourth quarter of 2018—its worst performance since the third quarter of 2011—and lost 4.05% for the year ending Dec. 31, 2018.