At the height of the property bubble, California's giant pension fund, Calpers, made a fateful decision: It aggressively poured money into real estate. As a result, today it's one of the biggest owners of undeveloped residential land in America.
Calpers in recent weeks said it expects to report paper losses of 103% on its housing investments in the fiscal year ended June 30. That's because Calpers invested not only its own money, but billions of dollars of borrowed money that must be repaid even if the investment fails. In some deals, as much as 80% of the money invested by Calpers was borrowed.
And just as some saw Madoff as an obvious fraud, some saw CalPERS as an obvious fraud, too. As we wrote in July:
What a coincidence. While things that have easily observable market prices (i.e. stocks) went down, everything that is valued subjectively went up! Private equity? It does great during a credit crunch when stocks are crashing! Just ask noted private equity players Blackstone Group or Babcock & Brown. And real estate? Well, whose real estate portfolio is not up at least 8% this year?
Nice numbers, CalPERS! Especially considering your investment in toxic waste CDOs at the beginning of the mortgage crisis, and your $1 billion dollar investment in the now-bankrupt LandSource at the peak of the real estate bubble.
Mark my words: CalPERS is lying about its performance, and there will be serious consequences for California retirees and taxpayers.