Bonuses Survive Abysmal Performance At CalPERS

It would be easy to go ballistic over this article from CNBC on bonus payments at CalPERS.

As its investment portfolio was losing nearly a quarter of its value, the country’s largest public pension fund doled out six-figure bonuses and substantial raises to its top employees, an analysis by The Associated Press has found.

Board member Tony Olivera said the California Public Employees’ Retirement System tried to reduce the bonuses but was under contractual obligations to pay them.

CalPERS’ plunging value came as stock values tumbled around the world, the state’s economy suffered its worst decline in decades and basic state services faced severe budget cuts.

Virtually all of CalPERS’ investment managers were awarded bonuses of more than $10,000 each, with several earning bonuses of more than $100,000 during the 2008-09 fiscal year. The cash awards were distributed as the fund lost $59 billion.

CalPERS points out that bonuses were actually cut by more than 50% and in addition to the contractual requirement argument for paying bonuses notes that they try and tie incentive compensation to long-term performance in order to dissuade managers from focusing on short-term profits.

Though it hurts, I can see the logic of contracts that measure performance over the longer-term. This is the sort of regime that a lot of the critics of bank bonuses have been arguing in favor of. Here you see the apparent perverse result of incentive pay being granted in the midst of abysmal performance, but that’s the sort of outcome you would expect when you lengthen the time frame for measurement.

There are times, however, when you wonder just how badly someone needs to screw up in order not to get a bonus and more appropriately lose their job. Such would be the case with the real estate investment manager for CalPERS.

Real estate was the hardest-hit investment category in the CalPERS portfolio during the 2008-09 fiscal year, suffering from the same property devaluations felt across the country. That portfolio lost 47.9 percent of its value over the fiscal year.

CalPERS awarded the portfolio’s senior investment manager, Ted Eliopoulos, a $93,941 bonus on top of his $333,124 salary, which was 8 percent higher than the previous year. According to CalPERS’ annual report, the global equity portfolio saw a 26 percent decline in U.S. stocks and a 32.4 percent drop in international stocks during 2008-09.

At some point you have to throw your incentive plans out the window and admit to the fact that sometimes people just make a mess of their job and need to pay a price for doing so.

About Tom Lindmark 401 Articles

I’m not sure that credentials mean much when it comes to writing about things but people seem to want to see them, so briefly here are mine. I have an undergraduate degree in economics from an undistinguished Midwestern university and masters in international business from an equally undistinguished Southwestern University. I spent a number of years working for large banks lending to lots of different industries. For the past few years, I’ve been engaged in real estate finance – primarily for commercial projects. Like a lot of other finance guys, I’m looking for a job at this point in time.

Given all of that, I suggest that you take what I write with the appropriate grain of salt. I try and figure out what’s behind the news but suspect that I’m often delusional. Nevertheless, I keep throwing things out there and occasionally it sticks. I do read the comments that readers leave and to the extent I can reply to them. I also reply to all emails so feel free to contact me if you want to discuss something at more length. Oh, I also have a very thick skin, so if you disagree feel free to say so.

Enjoy what I write and let me know when I’m off base – I probably won’t agree with you but don’t be shy.

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