The Ivy League’s edge is waning a bit, at least when it comes to endowment performance.
The playing field narrowed between returns of the eight-member Ivy League and other universities in the past two fiscal years. Schools of all sizes continued to mimic their prestigious peers by boosting their endowments with more illiquid assets such as private equity funds.
Many private equity, venture capital and hedge funds court endowments and pensions to diversify their investors beyond “the Harvards and Yales,” Kristin Reynolds, a partner at Boston-based consulting firm NEPC, said in an interview. The Ivy League -- Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth College and University of Pennsylvania -- traditionally had the advantage of leveraging their alumni base to gain access to the best-performing funds, said Reynolds, whose firm has 118 endowment and foundation clients with assets of $57 billion.
“That was the story for quite a few years -- elite universities performing better, and that was because of networking and connections,” she said.
For the year through June 30, the Ivy League schools posted an average decline of 0.8 percent on the $117 billion the group collectively manages, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The value of the endowments declined less than $1.5 billion because of donations and spending for operating budgets. On average, 20 percent of the Ivy schools’ budgets come from their endowments.
The investment performance of the group was better than the 2.6 percent average loss for about 450 endowments, according to an estimate by Cambridge Associates. The data, like the school returns, is net of fees.
In fiscal year 2015, the group far outpaced the more modest returns of the majority of endowments. The Ivies had an average gain of 7.8 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s almost three times the 2.4 percent average return calculated by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
Fiscal 2016 was more volatile than the previous year as institutional investors grappled with slow economic growth, near negative rates and uncertainty over the pace of monetary stimulus. Yale University and Princeton University were the only Ivies with positive returns, with 3.4 percent and 0.8 percent respectively.
Harvard blamed its 2 percent loss primarily on poor investments in stocks as well as natural-resource holdings in South America. The other Ivies didn’t disclose their investment strategies or performance by asset allocation.
Cornell was the worst performer, with a 3.3 percent loss on its $6.1 billion endowment. The school said that as part of its plans to improve performance, it would move its investment offices to New York.