Under the Dome

SEANC criticizes Cowell’s “dismal” investment returns

North Carolina’s public employees organization on Thursday accused the state treasurer of trying to spin the “dismal” returns of the state pension fund in what it calls a “risky” portfolio of investments.

Update: The treasurer’s office says SEANC’s criticism is inaccurate.

Treasurer Janet Cowell announced Wednesday the pension fund reported a 4.89 percent gain in the third quarter, largely crediting its stock portfolio. The State Employees Association of N.C. notes Cowell’s target was a 7.25 percent return for investments with the $83 billion fund. SEANC criticizes her for trying to disguise the low performance by calling for continued diversifying of the portfolio.

“It is ironic that Treasurer Cowell is using these dismal results showing underperforming alternatives as her rationale for wanting to throw more money down that rabbit hole,” Ardis Watkins, SEANC legislative affairs director, said in a statement.

Cowell asked the legislature earlier this year to give her more flexibility in the investments. She said if the state doesn’t meet a 7.25 percent return rate, additional general fund money would be needed to pay for retirement benefits.

The governor signed a bill into law allowing the treasurer to invest 35 percent of the retirement system in alternatives. SEANC says that has grown from 5 percent in 2000.

The employees association thinks the pension fund should be controlled by a board, not the treasurer.

Update: On Friday, Schorr Johnson, the treasurer’s spokesman, said the criticism was inaccurate “because it pits the quarter's 4.89 returns against the fund's target 7.25 ANNUAL rate of return. In fact, the 12 month return was 9.97%. ... The 4.89% annualized would exceed 20%.”