CalPERS to plug $1bn into emerging manager ecosystem

The nation’s largest pension system’s emerging manager commitment flies in the face of many other public allocators that have emphasised re-ups with existing relationships.

California Public Employees’ Retirement System will commit $1 billion to two asset managers with new strategies focused on emerging managers.

CalPERS’ approach runs contrary to most other large retirement systems that have emphasised re-upping with existing, long-standing managers during a tumultuous economic environment.

But this gambit could bode well for the nation’s largest pension system, as data suggests emerging managers outperform more established peers – while obtaining ownership GP stakes in these funds could include friendlier economics.

CalPERS announced on Tuesday it will commit $500 million each to the new TPG NEXT fund and GCM Grosvenor’s Elevate strategy.

“Backing established and proven managers has proven good for de-risking a portfolio, particularly in the short-term,” said Pamela Pavkov, partner and head of TPG NEXT. “But sophisticated investors are always interested in planting new seeds and embracing new trends.”

While many large public allocators are enduring a rocky macroeconomic picture, overallocations due to the denominator effect, and awkward liquidity needs, now is a good time to invest – particularly with emerging managers – according to Jon Levin, president of GCM Grosvenor. “From our standpoint, there is no better time to make capital available to back investor entrepreneurs who will benefit from our fund strategy,” Levin said.

Both TPG NEXT and Elevate will take investment stakes in funds they invest in, on top of providing capital, according to both firms. They also will provide co-investment opportunities.

One difference between the two is that TPG will help its GPs navigate the secondaries market if they need to restructure, while GCM will issue loans to funds under its watch.

“A lot of newer managers are undercapitalised,” Pavkov said. “They have a strong pipeline of investment activity, but have to go off to seek capital. TPG Next will alleviate the pain point for new managers by backstopping deal flow.”

TPG NEXT has more than 150 targets for investment, according to Pavkov. Levin said he expects Elevate to back between eight to 12 managers.

According to a 2021 report in the National Association of Investment Companies, an organisation that represents diverse-owned alternative investment funds, diverse funds have outperformed a broader index of private equity funds across a series of metrics from 2011 to 2022.

Robert Greene, president and CEO of the  National Association of Investment Companies, said: “With CalPERS being the largest pension plan in the US, with a history of being progressive and innovative, the allocations to TPG NEXT and GCM Grosvenor Elevate will obviously help the managers who receive the investments. However, the CalPERS commitment also serves as a beacon for other institutional investors to recognise the benefits of investing in this vibrant and high performing market.”

CalPERS’ funding could prove a boom to its returns while also providing financing to new managers who are struggling to fundraise in the current environment, according to sources. “It makes sense to keep a dedicated allocation to first-time funds,” said Ed Stubbings, managing director of Ternion Alternatives, about CalPERS’s initiative. Ternion assists new funds with their fundraising.

“There are many high-quality new firms out there who are speaking to LPs and are finding even in January of this year that allocations are tight for the year due to re-ups. Without dedicated pools of capital focused on emerging and diverse managers there’s a risk that re-ups will eat first-time fund allocation,” Stubbings added.

Under the watch of CIO Nicole Musicco, CalPERS is overhauling its private equity programme, after a “lost decade” of under-investing in the asset class caused the system to miss out on between $11 billion and $18 billion in returns, Musicco said in September.

Part of the overhaul includes lifting limits for investment staff to make commitments without board approval and a focus on direct investing opportunities. The system also recently named Anton Orlich to head its private equity programme, along with a newly created growth and innovation programme.