Pension plans need advice on hedge funds - US GAO

Date: Thursday, September 11, 2008
Author: Rachelle Younglai, Reuters

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WASHINGTON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Labor Department should provide pension plans with guidance on investing in hedge funds and private equity, a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said on Wednesday.

The report found that pension plans are investing more and more in alternate investments like hedge funds, which are traditionally less transparent and riskier.

Available data of mid- to large-size plans show that between 21 and 27 percent invest in hedge funds and more than 40 percent invest in private equity, said the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

Because hedge funds and private equity investments are exempt from federal regulations that generally apply to other pension plan investments, the GAO recommended that the Secretary of Labor provide greater clarity on the differences between safe and unsafe investments.

The Labor Department said it would consider the feasibility of developing specific guidance. But said guidance may be difficult to develop given the lack of uniformity in describing hedge funds, private equity funds and their investments and operations.

"Pension plans, whether public or private, must not gamble with the retirement resources of average Americans," said Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Paul Kanjorski, chairman of the House capital markets subcommittee.

Kanjorski was joined in wanting oversight of pension investments in hedge funds and private equity by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, and the panel's ranking Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa; House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, a Democrat from New York; and Rep. Mike Capuano, a Democrat from Massachusetts.