Value Added From Money Managers in Private Markets? An Examination of Pension Fund Investments in Real Estate

Working paper

Real estate is the most significant alternative asset class for pension funds, representing more than five percent of total holdings, on average. This paper employs a previously unexplored database to examine the investments of some 880 pension funds in direct real estate and real estate investment trusts (REITs) over the 1990-2009 period. Regarding allocation choice, we document that larger pension funds are more likely to invest in real estate internally, have lower costs, and higher net returns. Smaller funds are more likely to invest in direct real estate through external managers and fund-of-funds, but largely ignore REITs. The additional investment layers significantly increase their costs and disproportionally reduce returns. Moreover, U.S. pension funds’ investment costs are twice as high as those of their foreign peers, and both gross and net performance are lower. The underperformance of U.S. pension funds in real estate investments is most striking in the last two years of the sample period, which may be due to opportunistic investment behavior pre-crisis.



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