NY pension fund estimate reaches $176 billion

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NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s pension fund for state and local government workers has reached a record high of $176.2 billion, with a 13 percent return on investment last year, riding a bull market for stocks, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Monday.

The Common Retirement Fund also paid a record $9.7 billion to beneficiaries in the fiscal year that ended March 31, according to DiNapoli, its sole trustee. The fund for some 650,000 government employees pays benefits to about 400,000 retirees and beneficiaries.

The average employer contribution rate is 20.1 percent of salary for most public workers and nearly 27.6 percent for police and firefighters. After the strong earnings year, DiNapoli said, new contribution rates in August could be lowered, though it’s too soon to say with certainty.

“The strength of the domestic equity market, coupled with strong private equity and real estate returns drove much of our growth,” DiNapoli said. Almost 38 percent of its holdings are in domestic stocks, which rose 22 percent during the fiscal year.

Last year, the fund earned a 10.4 percent return on investments and was valued at $160.7 billion. It paid out $9.45 million in benefits. In August, it lowered contribution rates by 0.8 percent for most municipal and state workers and 1.3 percent for police and firefighters.

The fund currently has almost 27 percent of its investments in fixed-income holdings, which showed slight negative returns for the year.

DiNapoli said it’s hard to speculate whether the bull stock market now in its sixth year will falter.

He said the U.S. market remains “a safer harbor for capital to be deployed” than some challenged Western European and emerging markets, something he doesn’t expect will change soon. “But we do know bull markets don’t last forever. … It’s gone on longer than many people expected, but I don’t see it abating any time soon,” he said.

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