That’s not easy when the safe investments that pension funds usually rely on are paying less than 1 percent, a consequence of low interest rates.
CalPERS, the nation’s largest public pension plan, fell short of its goal in the fiscal year that ended June 30. Now, along with embracing riskier investments like private equity, Bienvenue is gambling on making low rates work for him, by borrowing billions of dollars in hopes of juicing the pension plan’s returns.
“We have to take more risk in some places,” he said. “…Systemically low interest rates, the net effect makes the challenge more difficult.”
CalPERS’ shift is just one example of how an era of persistently low interest rates has rippled across the economy, altering incentives while benefiting some groups and hurting others.
Consumers have snapped up 0% percent auto loans and mortgages at sub-3 percent rates. That’s helped the economy by driving sales of new homes and automobiles.
Depressed rates also have fueled a rise in corporate and government debt, aggravated trends toward greater inequality and left a wounded economy more dependent upon fiscal support from lawmakers at a time when Congress is intensely polarized.
Rates have been stuck at ultra-low levels for most of the past 12 years because of chronically weak demand in the U.S., Europe and Japan. The recovery from the 2008 financial crisis was the most anemic since World War II and — despite President Trump’s claims to have produced the greatest economy in history — the U.S. economy grew at an average rate of just 2.5 percent from 2017 through the end of last year.
Aging populations, subpar productivity growth and a once-in-a-century global health scare led the Fed earlier this year to return its benchmark borrowing rate to near zero and to resume large-scale buying of corporate