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Holders of the Purse Strings: Governance and Performance of Public Retirement Systems


  • Michael Useem
  • Olivia S. Mitchell


Public sector pension plans are managed in diverse ways, with governance policies distinguished according to their board composition and size, how the trustees structure their investment decisions, what restrictions are placed on their investments, and whether they have independent performance evaluations. We examine how these governance policies affect pension investment strategies, and how those strategies in turn affect the funds' financial performance. Methods. Drawing on two national surveys of state and local public retirement systems in 1992 and 1993, we ask if pension governance policies affect whether they (1) invest tactically in response to changing conditions; (2) allocate assets between equities and fixed-income holdings; (3) contract for external asset management; and (4) invest outside the U.S. Results. Empirical analysis reveals that government policies - especially independent performance evaluations - predict investment decisions in all four areas. These investment strategies are found in turn to affect subsequent fund performance: preferential investing in equities and abroad increased annual returns on their asets by as much as one to two percentage points. Conclusions. The ways that public pensions are governed have a direct bearing on how they invest their assets, and the investment strategies in turn directly affect the financial performance of their holdings.

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  • Michael Useem & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2000. "Holders of the Purse Strings: Governance and Performance of Public Retirement Systems," Center for Financial Institutions Working Papers 00-08, Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:pennin:00-08

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Olivia S. Mitchell & Roderick Carr, "undated". "State and Local Pension Plans," Pension Research Council Working Papers 95-13, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    2. Mark J. Roe, 1997. "The Political Roots Of American Corporate Finance," Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Morgan Stanley, vol. 9(4), pages 8-22.
    3. Ping-Lung Hsin & Olivia Mitchell, 1994. "The Political Economy of Public Pensions: Pension Funding, Governance, and Fiscal Stress," Revista de Analisis Economico – Economic Analysis Review, Ilades-Georgetown University, Universidad Alberto Hurtado/School of Economics and Bussines, vol. 9(1), pages 151-168, June.
    4. Yermack, David, 1996. "Higher market valuation of companies with a small board of directors," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(2), pages 185-211, February.
    5. Weisbach, Michael S., 1988. "Outside directors and CEO turnover," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(1-2), pages 431-460, January.
    6. Olivia S. Mitchell Ping-Lung, "undated". "Public Pension Plan Efficiency," Pension Research Council Working Papers 95-11, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    7. Olivia S. Mitchell & Ping Lung Hsin, 1994. "Public Sector Pension Governance and Performance," NBER Working Papers 4632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Olivia S. Mitchell & Robert S. Smith, "undated". "Public Sector Pension Funding," Pension Research Council Working Papers 94-4, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
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    1. repec:eee:hapoch:v1_865 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Robert Holzmann & Richard Hinz, 2005. "Old Age Income Support in the 21st century: An International Perspective on Pension Systems and Reform," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 7336.
    3. Xavier Aleksander Andonov & Xavier Yael V. Hochberg & Joshua D. Rauh, 2016. "Pension Fund Board Composition and Investment Performance: Evidence from Private Equity," Economics Working Papers 16104, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
    4. Weller, Christian E. & Wenger, Jeffrey B., 2009. "Prudent investors: the asset allocation of public pension plans," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 8(04), pages 501-525, October.
    5. Olivia S. Mitchell & John Piggott & Cagri Kumru, 2008. "Managing Public Investment Funds: Best Practices and New Challenges," NBER Working Papers 14078, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Impavido, Gregorio, 2002. "On the governance of public pension fund management," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2878, The World Bank.
    7. Jackowicz, Krzysztof & Kowalewski, Oskar, 2012. "Crisis, internal governance mechanisms and pension fund performance: Evidence from Poland," Emerging Markets Review, Elsevier, vol. 13(4), pages 493-515.
    8. Karen Benson & Marion Hutchinson & Ashwin Sriram, 2011. "Governance in the Australian Superannuation Industry," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 99(2), pages 183-200, March.

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