Friday, July 22, 2016

How the Teamsters pension disappeared more quickly under Wall Street than the mob

Real estate investments in Las Vegas casinos and hotels once threatened the integrity of a Teamsters pension fund that the federal government wrested away from corrupt trustees and organized crime after five years of legal battles

A quarter-century later, the professionals who replaced them—Central States Pension Fund administrators; the Goldman Sachs & Co. and Northern Trust Global Advisors fiduciaries; and Department of Labor regulators—stood watch while the financial markets accomplished what the mob had failed to: which was to smash the fund’s long-term solvency with massive money-losing investments.

The debacle unfolding at the $16.1 billion Central States fund in Rosemont, Illinois, is a cautionary tale for all Americans dependent on their retirement savings. Unable to reverse a decades-long outflow of benefits payments over pension contributions, the professional money managers placed big bets on stocks and non-traditional investments between 2005 and 2008, with catastrophic consequences.

When the experiment blew up, rather than exhume the devastated portfolio to better understand the problem—and perhaps seek accountability—Central States administrators lobbied Congress to pass legislation giving them authority to cut retirement benefits by up to 50% after Treasury Department approval.

That’s close to Central States’ astonishing 42% drop in assets—and a loss of about $11.1 billion in seed capital—in just 15 months during 2008 and early 2009. And while the investment losses are not the source of the retirement plan’s unsustainability today, they accelerated the pension’s problems, and almost certainly made the benefits cuts deeper. The professionals made more money disappear in a shorter period of time than the mobsters ever dreamed of.

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