Although the assets of the Dukes County pension fund have seen losses in recent months due to the turmoil on Wall Street and the national economy, spokesmen for the Dukes County retirement board this week said their losses are manageable. They said the pension system is solvent and will stay that way.
Noreen Mavro Flanders, Dukes County treasurer and administrator for the county retirement board, said investments have decreased in value in recent months. But she said the county retirement board has diversified its portfolio enough so the system will survive the current fluctuations in the stock market.
“Nobody is insulated from this. We will have some losses too. But whatever happens, we are in it for the long term. We have made sure all our cash is collateralized, and we have moved our investments around to different areas. We will be fine,” she said.
Ms. Mavro Flanders said the retirement fund has approximately $60 million in assets and includes 1,000 active employees and 225 retirees. She said some of the system’s money is invested with the state Public Retirement Investment Trust (PRIT) fund, while other money is invested elsewhere.
The return rate for the county retirement system during the second quarter of the current calendar year — from April 1 to June 30 — was 0.2 per cent, Ms. Mavro Flanders said. The return rate for Jan. 1 to April 30 was negative 3.9; the rate for the 12-month period between June 30, 2007 to June 30 of this year was negative 0.2.
But the long-term trend for the retirement system is more promising — the return rate for the past three years was 9.1 per cent, the treasurer said.
Recent figures for the fund were not available this week, although Ms. Mavro Flanders conceded that investments will almost certainly be down and said she expected the return rate for the third quarter of the calendar year to be a negative number.
Statewide the PRIT fund has lost nearly $8 billion since the start of the calendar year and nearly $4 billion in September alone due to collapsing financial markets. The losses have driven the fund balance down to $45.7 billion from $53.7 billion back in January. The drop in value in September was the largest in the fund’s 25-year history.
State Treasurer Tim Cahill, who is separately enmeshed in efforts to get the state back into the frozen short-term borrowing market, urged members of the PRIT fund to stay calm during a pension board meeting on State Street in Boston on Wednesday.
He also said retirees, whose pensions depend on the fund’s assets, would not feel the pinch from the recent losses.
“We’ll meet all of our obligations,” Mr. Cahill said in a published report.
The PRIT fund is down overall 15.3 per cent this year. It took the fund a year to recover from the 1987 stock market collapse and nearly four years to regain asset values that disappeared after the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s. While the fund balance now rests at the same level as at the end of 2006, pension fund managers say the fund, despite the heavy losses, outperformed the market, which was down 19 per cent through September.
On a brighter note, Mr. Cahill announced this week that the state has successfully sold $750 million worth of bonds to pay state bills. The sale, at an interest rate of 2.2 per cent, had been delayed twice over the last two weeks due to uncertain credit markets.
Ms. Mavro Flanders also remained upbeat about the prospects of the county retirement system.
“We’ve lived through these [fluctuations in the market] before, we will be fine. It’s a down market now, but that can change quickly,” she said.