Hawaii public pension fund suffers worst loss in 17 years

Hawaii pension fund to see largest drop for investments since 2002

HONOLULU — Hawaii’s largest public pension fund suffered its worst quarterly loss in more than 17 years because of the economic impact of the coronavirus.

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The state Employees’ Retirement System investments fell 9.5 percent, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

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The fund’s assets, which include contributions and distributions, shrank by nearly $1.8 billion, to $16.2 billion, according to a report by investment adviser Meketa Investment Group.

The decrease was the largest percentage drop for investments since the third quarter of 2002, when the fund lost 9.7 percent, and the fourth-largest decline since the third quarter of 1990, when it fell 7.6 percent.

The pension fund provides retirement, disability and survivor benefits to 126,000 recipients

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“Our members and beneficiaries face absolutely no risks relative to our financial capacity to pay promised benefits or our operational ability to process payments and service our members,” System Executive Director Thom Williams said.

The fund had a $14.08 billion shortfall entering the fiscal year that began July 1, 2019. The fund was up 5.3 percent as of Dec. 31 and ahead of its pace to reach its annualized 7 percent long-term return target.

But with three months left in the fiscal year that ends June 30, the fund’s investment return declined 4.6 percent to leave no realistic chance of hitting its investment return objective.

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The fund’s diversification helped avert what could have been a more disastrous quarter, Chief Investment Officer Elizabeth Burton said.

“While it is always disappointing to have a negative return, this is far better than peer funds who were down nearly 40 percent more,” Burton said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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