BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

December 1, 2011

By Chris Bragg

As more details filter out about the collapse of MF Global – the major derivatives trading firm that crashed under a $1 billion cash shortfall last month— a New York City union leader is questioning why two of the company’s top officials are leading efforts to revamp the city’s $120 billion pension fund system.

Comptroller John Liu hired Larry Schloss, a private equity fund manager who had also been serving as one of the four directors for MF Global, in early 2010 as deputy comptroller for pensions and chief investment officer.

This September, the comptroller hired Kevin Davis, the former CEO of MF Global, to oversee the pension system’s new commodities investment program, a Liu spokesman confirmed. Davis had left the company amid a $90 million settlement stemming from a rogue trading scandal. The hiring was not announced via press release.

Much of the focus surrounding MF Global’s collapse has centered on its former CEO, ex-New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, and his risky bets in Europe. But scrutiny has also been brought on the company’s lack of internal risk and accounting controls, persistent problems stemming from the tenures of Davis and Schloss, said Greg Floyd, the president of Teamsters Local 237, who sits on the city’s biggest pension fund board.

“The fact is that Jon Corzine was the tip of the iceberg,” Floyd said. “MF Global had been having problems since Larry Schloss was there and when Davis was there. Corzine was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Three years have passed and two CEOs have come and gone since Schloss and Davis were at the company. A spokesman for Liu’s office said that for anyone to question Scholl’s qualifications for his job was “absurd.”

In a statement to City & State, Schloss dismissed any questions about Davis’ recent hiring.

“Kevin Davis has 26 years of experience in commodities and has run a global business. He was hired because he was the best applicant for the job,” Schloss said. “He will help devise a long-term strategy for the pension funds in order to further optimize the investment portfolio. You can’t overlook 26 years of experience.”

Notably, Floyd is exploring a 2013 run for mayor in a field that could include Liu, and has recently cast himself as an antagonist to the embattled comptroller.

Floyd said he was most concerned by a rogue trading incident at MF Global in February 2008. That’s when a MF Global broker made a nearly $1 billion bet on wheat future contracts from his personal computer, losing $141.5 million and consuming about 6 percent of the company’s capital.

A month later, Davis was named as one of the defendants in a lawsuit by four public pension funds, which alleged the company had improper internal risk controls. Davis left the company in November 2008, shortly after the company agreed to a $90 million settlement.

Reuters recently reviewed regulatory actions against MF Global over the past decade and found the company has drawn more sanctions from the U.S. commodity futures regulators than each of its 14 closest peers, while drawing the second-highest amount in fines, for alleged lapses in risk supervision and recordkeeping.

As Liu and Mayor Michael Bloomberg seek to unify the city’s five pension funds into one system using professional managers and a nonpartisan staff, Floyd and several other NYCERS board members are concerned the new system could put too much power on the hands of unchecked investment professionals. Schloss is leading efforts to engineer the new system, though it’s unclear whether he would ultimately serve as its chief investment officer.

Floyd said the collapse at MF Global offers a compelling case as to why independent boards should continue to play a strong role in overseeing pension fund management decisions — especially when those decisions are made by people with mixed track records.

“The person who gets to make the decisions would ultimately have very few people that would have control over them,” Floyd said. “It would be something like the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover.”

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Comptroller Liu, Mayor Bloomberg, and Labor Leaders Announce Agreement in Principle to Reform Pension Investment Governance and Management

Proposal Delegates Investment Authority for All Five Pension Funds to One Newly Created Body Authorized to Hire an Independent Professional Manager

First Major Reform of Pension Investment Structure in 70 Years

NEW YORK, NY – City Comptroller John C. Liu, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and organized labor leaders today announced an agreement in principle to reform and professionalize the investment governance and management of the City’s pension funds. The proposal would place investment advisory authority for all five of the currently independent City pension funds under one new pension board, supported by an independent, full-time staff led by a Chief Investment Officer, who would be appointed to a fixed term. The proposal is intended to insulate management of pension assets from any political office, further professionalize it and make it more consistent with industry best practices. The proposal aims to increase investment returns, lower the City’s pension costs, protect and strengthen pensions for current and future retirees, enhance accountability and guard against the possibility of fraud and corruption. The City’s five pension funds currently have 58 trustees, each with a different weighted vote, who decide investment policy. No two systems are governed, managed or operated in the same manner, resulting in complexity, inconsistency and inefficiency. The Mayor and Comptroller made the announcement at City Hall, where they were joined by District Council 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, Uniformed Firefighters Association President Stephen Cassidy, Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, Detectives’ Endowment Association President Michael Palladino, Captains Endowment Association President Roy Richter, and Pension Board Trustees.

Read the release: Pension

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November 9, 2011

by Steven Greenhouse

Two of New York City’s top labor leaders voiced anger on Tuesday about the agreement by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Comptroller John C. Liu to overhaul the city’s pension plans.

Those union leaders — the presidents of Transport Workers Union Local 100 and Teamsters Local 237 — complained that the mayor’s and comptroller’s offices did not brief them about the proposed overhaul before it was announced two weeks ago, even though the union leaders are trustees on the city’s largest pension plan.

“I don’t know anything about the plan,” said John Samuelsen, the transit workers’ leader.

In a letter dated Monday, Mr. Samuelsen and Greg Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents many housing authority workers, joined Bill de Blasio, the public advocate, and presidents of all the boroughs except Staten Island in asking questions about the overhaul. The union leaders’ criticism could make it harder for Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Liu to persuade Albany to enact legislation needed for the overhaul. Mr. de Blasio and Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, are potential mayoral candidates who may oppose Mr. Liu in the race.

Under the overhaul, the city would merge its pension plans’ five boards, which have 58 trustees, into one with about a dozen trustees that would oversee the plans’ combined $120 billion in investments. The plans cover 237,000 retirees and more than 300,000 current city and city-affiliated employees.

The mayor and the comptroller said their plan would most likely yield higher investment returns by minimizing political interference in the pension system and by naming a full-time investment manager. In their letter, the officials asked Mr. Liu to make a presentation at the next pension trustees’ meeting explaining the new board’s structure, the new trustees’ qualifications and how they would be chosen.

They also asked Mr. Liu to explain how the new plan would achieve the comptroller’s hopes of increasing annual investment returns by one or two percentage points, yielding $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion more a year and helping to hold down the city’s budget deficit.

Mr. Floyd said that a majority of the board members of the city’s main pension fund, the New York City Employment Retirement System, were also not briefed before the announcement, and he objected to the proposal to have an unelected person become the fiduciary custodian for the system, replacing the comptroller.

When the plan was announced, the mayor, several union presidents and numerous pension experts praised Mr. Liu for ceding much of his office’s power over pensions to an outside manager.

Michael Loughran, a spokesman for Mr. Liu, said, “The proposal will benefit pensioners and taxpayers alike by transforming an outdated system into a best-in-class investment vehicle.”

Mr. Samuelsen said he feared being squeezed off the new board. “Most important is the fear that we’re going to give large decision-making powers to Wall Street folks, the very people who have made horrific decisions with money over the last decade,” he said.

Mayor and Comptroller Seek Joint Management for 5 Pension Plans

by Steven Greenhouse

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the New York City comptroller, John C. Liu, proposed a far-reaching overhaul of the city’s five pension plans on Thursday, saying they believed that a new, consolidated investment strategy could save the city at least $1 billion a year.

At a City Hall news conference, the mayor and the comptroller, backed by the leadership of several unions representing city workers, said they would seek to merge the pension plans’ five boards, which have 58 directors, into one far smaller board that would oversee the plans’ combined $120 billion in investments. The plans cover 237,000 retirees and more than 300,000 current city and city-affiliated employees, like teachers, firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers and correction officers.

Read the entire article: Pension

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Trouble Already for City Pension Reforms?

by Adam Lisberg

The pension management reforms proposed last week by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller John Liu could run into challenges from representatives of the very workers they are supposed to benefit.

Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, said he and his 20,000 members weren’t consulted on the deal and had only a few hours’ notice before it was unveiled at City Hall – leaving them with plenty of unanswered questions.

Read the entire article: Pension