Share price crash cut pension fund's value by 24 per cent in eight months

USS suffered in 2008 but board refuses to divulge current figure. Rebecca Attwood reports

April 9, 2009

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) fell in value by about £7 billion in the space of eight months, it has emerged.

In March last year, the value of the fund - which has 250,000 members - stood at £29 billion.

But with 78 per cent of its assets held in equities as of 31 March 2008, the turbulence in worldwide share prices caused by the credit crunch led to the fund's being valued at £22 billion in December.

Eric Levin, a research fellow at the University of Glasgow, said USS management should have switched from risky assets as soon as the global economic crisis became apparent. The Bank of England moved out of equities and into index-linked gilts in February 2008.

Dr Levin also criticised the USS for issuing a statement to members in February this year that referred to the fund's value in March 2008 without details about what had happened since.

The USS declined to provide Times Higher Education with the current value of the fund. In a statement, it said the funding strategy of its board of trustees remained unchanged. If any developments emerge from an ongoing review of the fund, "the board will consider them in May", the statement said.

"Meanwhile, the diversification of the portfolio will continue," it added.

At its annual institutions' meeting in December, Peter Moon, chief investment officer of the USS, said the scheme had seen a "significant fall" and admitted that "things could get worse".

Edwin Topper, the scheme's actuary, agreed at the meeting that the previous nine months had posted "unprecedented negative returns". He added, however, that the board of trustees expected to recover the position in the long term.

He said the scheme was "cashflow positive", receiving more money from members than it paid out. It could afford to take "a long-term ... stance", he added.

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