MAY 2008: Three local retirement boards, North Adams, Malden and Northampton, were the top three winners in our annual, unofficial, Pension Fund Investment Earnings Contest for Year 2007. 

North Adams (16.64%), Malden (16.08%) and Northampton (15.6%) all have one thing in common. Their funds are managed exclusively by the deBurlo Group, Inc. of 50 Federal Street, Boston, headed by the venerable Russ deBurlo.

Known for his active management style, Russ deBurlo has had an exclusive contract with these three boards going back to 1985, when PERA (now PERAC) began tracking the investments of all of our 106 retirement systems and PRIM, manager of PRIT, the Commonwealth’s giant pension fund.

And the three deBurlo funds haven’t done bad when compared to PRIT – within one percent of PRIT’s annualized 11.38% since inception, with Malden the closest at 10.91%. While it’s a daunting task for a local board to match PRIM-PRIT on an ongoing basis, a fact recognized by the large number of boards that utilize the PRIT Fund, there are a number of boards that have done very well on their own, while not quite matching PRIT’s numbers.

Haverhill is a rare exception with a 2007 earnings rate of 11.95%, compared to PRIT’s 11.91%, and an annualized earnings rate slightly better than PRIT’s. Haverhill’s Retirement Board has long been recognized for its acumen in the investment of its retirement system’s pension fund.

Another fund, that has been able to top PRIT on a regular basis, is Wellesley, with a 12.25% annualized earnings rate through 2006. Taking advantage of private sector expertise among its Board membership and led by guru Arnold Wakelin, the town’s finance director, Wellesley is the most notable exception. But, after Wakelin died over two years ago, the Board has since decided to place its funds in PRIT for management.

Another board, that had an exceptional year in 2007, was Lexington with an investment return of 13.3%, next highest after the deBurlo boards. Lexington has an 88 percent funded ratio with a Year 2015 full funding date – exceptional numbers. All data for Year 2007 is unofficial at this time, but the figures we have used are relatively solid. PERAC will shortly compile official figures.

“Of course, there is no ‘annual pension fund earnings contest’, all investments are long-term,” Association President Ralph White clarified.“We had one board that finished first one year and last the very next, or ‘from the penthouse to the outhouse’, as the saying goes. However, it’s only fair to recognize our local boards who have received unfair criticism from the media at times.”