Thursday, March 14, 2013

Oracle of Tampa - another view

We mentioned in Oracle of Tampa is a rare breed, some good news about Tampa on the national stage as reported in the WSJ earlier this week, a story about how a non-traditional investment firm had beaten the big guys for years with the City of Tampa Fireman's and Police pension fund investments.

Well, with the power of the internet, and some comments posted here at The Eye to that earlier article, perhaps additional scrutiny is warranted.  We tend to be skeptical of reporters, and the WSJ may have overlooked some interesting, and relevant information, especially to those in the pension plan.

File:Tampa seal.svg
City of Tampa Seal

From Forbes: Red Flags Abound at $1.6 Billion City of Tampa Firefighters and Police Pension.  Note that this article is dated January 16, 2013, well before the WSJ article published this week.  A good reporter would have noted this information.  Some snippets:
I have two words of advice for firefighters and cops who participate in the City of Tampa Firefighters and Police Pension: Watch Out. While I cannot say for certain that your pension’s assets are being mishandled without further investigation, there are ample “red flags” present and I believe an independent forensic review should be undertaken of the fund.
Based upon the documents that I have reviewed, in my opinion, it is impossible for participants in the fund to assess the integrity of the plan’s investments or the plan’s ability to pay benefits.
If you’re looking for audited financials for the fund, you’re out of luck. In the financial statements the accountants state, “We have not audited or reviewed the accompanying financial statements and, accordingly, do not express an opinion or provide any assurance about whether the financial statements are in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.”
There are more red flags here. 100% of the assets of the $1.6 billion pension are now and have for the past 39 years been managed by a single investment advisor, Bowen, Hanes & Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the firm’s SEC registration, Bowen, Hanes & Company manages a total of approximately $2 billion. That is, a single client, the Tampa pension, represents approximately 80% of the money management firm’s assets under advisory. So much for diversification of manager risk.
More at the link.

We have two stories, respected publications, with vastly different perspectives.  Where does the truth lie?

Whatever is going on with the pension fund, its not traditional, its not best practice, and it adds risk to the pensioners.  How much risk?

I don't know.  But if my retirement was locked up in that pension plan, I'd be asking some questions.

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