The majority of the Yale University endowment fund is invested with active managers but, if you compare its returns to low-cost active strategies rather than to passive indices, “Yale’s active managers don’t look so special,” writes Bloomberg’s Nir Kaissar.
In its recently released 2016 annual report, the article says the esteemed university’s endowment rebutted “fee bashers” by arguing, “The important metric is net returns, not gross fees.”
Kaissar points out, however, that Yale’s attempt to substantiate high fees in the name of net returns is no longer valid. While low-cost “smart-beta” funds haven’t been around long enough to allow a performance comparison against index investing, he writes, a quantitative approach can be “back-tested to see how it would have performed historically.
After substituting an equal blend of two quantitative active strategies for the 90% of Yale’s portfolio allocated to equity-like investments–over 10, 20 and 30 year periods, Kaissar charted the results as follows:
Over the last ten years, Yale has beaten the 90/10 passive portfolio by just 0.8 percentage points, while the “mock” active portfolio trailed the passive by 0.3 percentage points. So, as Yale tries to suppress discussions around management fees, its recent performance trend could make that difficult.
“Still,” writes Kaissar “you can’t blame Yale for trying to pre-empt complaints about the fees it pays to active managers. Yale’s endowment was $25.4 billion as of fiscal year 2016. If it pays management fees of 1 percent—and that number could very well be higher—that’s $254 million in fees every year.”