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Are Real Estate Investments A Problem For The Dallas Police & Fire Pension System?


The financially barren Dallas Police & Fire Pension System needs a solution fast. Mayor Mike Rawlings sued the city on Monday (as a private citizen) to stop retired police officers and firefighters from cashing out their retirement funds after it has hemorrhaged more than 10% of its funds in the last couple of months. Experts say the fund will be empty as early as next month.

Investments in the Dallas Police & Fire Pension System are public record. A cursory glance at the most up-to-date numbers from October 2016 show that while the pension targets a 12% investment in real estate, it actually invests about one-quarter of its dollars into real estate.

Real estate tends to be a high-risk, high-reward asset class. And for a pension fund that, ideally, has a steady yield to allow for slow and constant withdrawals, heavy investments in real estate may stick out, SMU Cox School of Business senior lecturer of economics Mike Davis tells us. Data from September 2015 to September 2016 (above) shows that real estate accounts were both the poorest performing and the most volatile.

But Davis says the fund's fundamental problem isn’t investing in risky real estate, "it’s the decisions made more than 20 years ago that allow extraordinarily generous benefit withdrawals for retirees, coupled with the decision not to properly fund the benefits."

Which brings us to whatever (presumed) solution City Council will reach at today’s meeting. Rawlings says the city will not pay the $1.1B bailout that pension officials want nor will it sell off city-owned real estate.

Davis says that, regardless of how the city solves this issue in the short term, grabbing at higher yields isn’t the solution. It will have to be some combination of reducing the money going out and maximizing the money earning.