Texas Teachers’ opens board meetings to world

The $94bn pension fund has started webcasting its board meetings following a growing trend among US public pensions to have live feeds of its sessions.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas has started webcasting its board meetings as it attempts to increase “transparency” over how it invests its $94 billion pension fund.

The move is part of a growing trend among US public pensions to have live audio and visual feeds of board and investment committee meetings.

The $138.6 billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System agreed in 2009 to stream the audio of its board meetings over the internet after moving to its new headquarters in Sacramento. A spokesman said the pension provided “live, public audio streams of our board and committee meetings” with the streams discontinued when the meeting went into closed session. Video webcast was not available. CalSTRS’ $198.3 billion neighbour, the California Public Employees Retirement System, does not webcast its meetings but provides a live dialin telephone number where members of the public can listen to meetings.

Webcasting technology provides that front row seat, no matter where our members live in Texas or for that matter, the world.

David Kelly, Texas TRS
board chairman

Texas TRS said its pilot programme of live and on-demand webcasting was intended to “increase transparency and provide easy ways for the media and general public to stay abreast of important pension fund news”. The pension warned, however, it would constantly review the situation owing to “significant” costs. The webcasts will only cover full board meetings held in open session.

Private equity real estate GPs though are likely to express concern at the increasing level of disclosures being made by limited partners – not least when fund commitments or portfolio investments are being debated at board and committee meetings.

David Kelly, TRS board chairman, said in a statement the pension wanted retirees to hear directly about the “decisions we make here in Austin on their behalf. Webcasting technology provides that front row seat, no matter where our members live in Texas or for that matter, the world.”

A spokesman added the webcasts were broadcasting information publicly-available to anyone who could physically attend TRS board meetings. Texas’ next webcast will be its 17 and 18 June board meeting, during which the pension is expected to review portfolio performance and asset allocation. The pension’s first live webcast was held in May, with an archived webcast also available of its February meetings. All meetings will be available on-demand.

At its May board meeting this week, investment officials revealed TRS’ REIT investments were up “33 percent … [and] contrasted the strong performance of REITs with the poor performance of private real asset investments”, according to minutes of the meeting.

The pension has a target allocation of 10 percent to real estate against an actual NAV allocation of 4 percent, and last year deployed $2.9 billion in fresh commitments. Two recent investments include the $410 million direct deal to acquire a 95 percent stake in a portfolio of industrial properties from ProLogis and the $400 million mandate awarded to LaSalle Investment Management to form a new core open-ended fund. Texas TRS has a 5.9 percent actual allocation to private equity, investment documents said.

Steve LeBlanc, senior managing director of private markets at TRS for the past two years and speaking to PERE in March, said the pension expected to deploy $4 billion to real estate investment strategies in 2010 alone.