This past weekend Barron’s profiled the Harvard Management Companywhich manages the college’s endowment fund and its CEO Jane Mendillo. Many years ago the Harvard Endowment was a world beater under the oversight of Jack Meyer but struggled some under Mohamed El-Erian and while things have improved under Mendillo the fund has not returned to being a world beater once again.
Like many similar pools of capital, the fund allocates a large portion of its assets to illiquid investments like private equity and hedge funds but is doing less of this type of investing after a particularly bad experience in the financial crisis.
As many commenters on the Barron’s article noted, despite the complexity and sophistication of the fund it would have had better results with a 60/40 mix of the SPDR S&P 500 (NYSE:SPY) and the iShares Core Total Bond Market ETF (NYSEARCA:AGG).
Barron’s reported that the endowment has had a 1.7% annualized return over the last five years compared to 6.2% annualized for 60/40 although for ten years, Harvard came out ahead by 340 basis points annualized.
Comparisons to a 60/40 portfolio that could be constructed with just two ETFs probably miss the point. The Harvard Endowment is in the withdrawal phase of an infinite time horizon which is not what individual investors have to confront.