Saturday, March 24, 2007

AIM High

Having been burned with government bureaucrats running the Alberta Government Venture Capital fund (VenCap) it was sold off by the Ralph regime to Onex corporation in 1995.
It had potential, and even with a deficit its shares were worth $8 on the TSX. Which was not bad for the time. But the debt and defict hysteria led the government to sell off this potential golden goose.

In terms of publicly-funded venture capital funds, Alberta’s experience has not been positive. Vencap was established by the Alberta government with funding of $240 million and the objective of investing in venture capital. Vencap experienced many of the same problems as LSVCCs – a lack of good investments and a reluctance to take risks. As a result, a relatively small percentage of Vencap’s equity ended up in new Alberta ventures. The Alberta Opportunity Company faced similar problems in operating a program to support investments in start-up knowledge-based industries.

Yet its deficit was still underwritten by the Heritage Trust fund five years later, the Ralph regime was panic driven, selling off all government services it could at fire sale prices..

December 2000: All of the loans made to provinces from 1977 to 1982 have been paid back on time and without any missed payments. The only project loans left on the Heritage Fund books are Vencap and Ridley Grain Ltd. for a total of $98.8 million, which represents 0.8% percent of the Heritage Fund's total portfolio.

The Government is
a risk averse regime that would rather underwrite private capitalists than use it's own capital.

Institutional investors key to growth of city's tech sector

Unlike other provinces and public pension funds, including the federal CPP, Alberta was more interested in selling off government assets and services to the private sector, than developing its capital base with the Heritage Trust fund and its other investment funds.

Risk adverse, wanting to divest itself of any economic responsibility, "we are not in the business of business", the government finally has realized it is a capitalist state and should be investing its social capital. However its social capital is not just the Heritage Trust fund, but public sector pension funds as well.

In a move predicted to earn up to an extra $500 million a year, the Stelmach government plans to create a new provincial Crown corporation to oversee $70 billion worth of financial assets.

The Edmonton-based investment powerhouse will be the fifth-largest pool of managed capital in Canada.

It would be exceeded in size only by the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec ($143.5 billion), the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ($111 billion), the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan ($96.1 billion), and the B.C. Investment Management Corp. ($76.3 billion).

AIM Corp. would assume responsibility for managing the $16.3-billion Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, several public endowment funds -- including the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research -- and a basket of public-sector pension funds.

The latter includes the $13.5-billion Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP), the province's largest public pension fund, and the $5.7 billion Public Service Pension Plan, among several others.

A recent study for the government concluded a stand-alone organization would be the best way "to achieve investment excellence," Alberta Finance said in a brief news release.

"The proposal follows best practices for top public sector investment funds such as the Canada Pension Plan, the B.C. Investment Management Corporation and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan."

During the Ralph regime everything not making money was sloughed off and contracted out or privatized. In order balance out the reduction in royalties and taxes coming in from the Oil industry, in the nineties the PC's found that like many governments they were carrying pension debt. As the third party to the Local Authorities Pension Plan(LAPP) which covers all MUSH employees and management in Alberta, they never contributed to the plan, rather like other governments they put all pension earnings into general revenues.

In the late nineties with a deficit and debt crisis, they looked at the debt they owed the LAPP and hived it off in plans to allow the contributors, employees and management as well as MUSH employers, to run it. Without of course the governments missing contribution. This left the LAPP in a deficit situation, causing its members to have to pay for the governments debt owed them.

In return for paying down the governments debt to the LAPP the members of the plan were offered investment autonomy, with moves to privatize the plan under membership control. Which was not a bad thing. It removed statist bureaucracy and red tape at a time when the market was booming, and as a fund managed by employee representatives from unions, management and professional associations, and employers. The board was in place, and hired its own CEO,and investment managers, as well as holding a series of input meetings with the membership, both for feedback and for an explanation as to how the funds would be managed.

In a short five years the LAPP was out of debt and the members actually paid less then was expected and in fact got a payback for overpayment's of the government debt. The reason? Bre-X. While the Bre-X swindle saw many make fortunes on the largest run of a penny stock to a $200 share in the shortest period in Canadian mining history, even for the mining scandals of the sixties, many also lost fortunes as the shares collapsed under the salting scandal that ensued. But not the LAPP they made money off Bre-X, and other investments. Because they were autonomous and now were no longer risk adverse, that is they were investing to make up the deficit, while maintaining the capital for their fiduciary responsibility to their retirees.

Once out of debt and making money, as they have for a decade, the government realized it was selling the golden goose if it allowed full autonomy, it reigned in its plans to privatize the LAPP. It remained under autonomous management but was still a subject to regulation by the Finance Department.

Had it been allowed full autonomy it would have made even more money. As it was with partial autonomy, and its own investment policies and managers it went from a deficit to $13. 5 Billion in assets.

Seeing it had a golden goose again, the Government has refused out right autonomy and has moved away from privatization of LAPP. Which may be the reason for it not wanting to talk about how it is looting public pension funds to underwrite its new investment corporation.

I almost missed it, but there it was, posted on the Alberta finance department's website.

The cryptic, one-page news release outlined a bill, introduced in the legislature Tuesday, to create a new provincial Crown corporation called Alberta Investment Management Corporation, or AIM Corp.

It will boast roughly $70 billion in assets.

That was it. There was no fanfare. No press conference. No grandiose quotes about the cosmic significance of this bold initiative from Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach, or Finance Minister Lyle Oberg. In fact, the latter didn't even respond to my followup call Wednesday. A department flack did.

The release itself was so blandly written it appeared designed to put reporters to sleep.

There is an irony here in that the ultimate capital partner in government P3 projects is not private hedge funds, nor private industry, but public pension funds. The Alberta government will find itself funding its own P3 projects with its new AIM Corporation. Just as governments world wide are being funded by Canadian institutional pension funds. And these same pension funds are crying about not having more government real estate and infrastructure projects in Canada to invest in.



Your Pension Dollars At Work

P3= Public Pension Partnerships

Find blog posts, photos, events and more off-site about:
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments: