Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System Enters The Death Spiral: AIG Wannabe’s Go-For-Broke Strategy Fails As Pension Fund Begins Liquidations
by Tyler Durden
Two few months ago we disclosed how the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) was doing all it can to become the next AIG. In addition to, or maybe precisely due to, its deplorable fundamental condition, which can be summarized as being 61% underfunded on its $33.7 billion in assets, with a performance record of down $4.4 billion in 2009 and 5% in 2008, the fund, courtesy of a detailed analysis by Alexandra Harris of the Medill Journalism school at Northwestern, was found to be on its way to trying to become a veritable self-made TBTF: as was described then, “TRS is largely on the risky side of the contracts, selling and writing OTC derivatives, including credit default swaps, insurance-like contracts that guarantee payment in the event of a default.” In other words, TRS was selling substantial amounts of derivatives, which held the fund’s other assets as hostage in case the collateral calls started coming in, as should the market broadly decline, the value of the downside derivatives would “increase” and the seller (in this case TRS) would need to pledge ever more collateral against these wrong way bets. Not only that, but the Fund is currently getting annihilated on its curve exposure: “TRS appears to be betting that long-term Treasury yields will greatly increase” we wrote back then. So as a result of i) its massive underfunded fundamentals and ii) a bet that the market would turn bullish, i.e., spreads would drop (they are rising), and treasuries would plunge (we all know where they are today), which was supposed to happen by now but isn’t as the economy is now officially double dipping, the fund has basically thrown in the towel and is proceeding with liquidations. The problem there is that due to its derivative exposure, liquidations now become self-reinforcing, as more cash needs to be pledged as collateral in a declining market, and the AIG death spiral we all know and love, follows. The only thing missing is for Goldman to raise its overnight variation margin requirements and it’s game over, as we get a brand new AIG on our hands. And since Goldman is among the 60 or so asset managers that actually decide how the fund invests its meager assets, it is fully aware of its precarious position, and it is a sure bet that Goldman is currently deciding when to pull the plug on the TRS life support.
All this is direct consequence of the disclosure in Crain’s Chicago earlier that “Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System, Springfield, plans to sell $3 billion in investments, or about 10% of its $33.1 billion in assets, in the current fiscal year to pay pension benefits, according to Dave Urbanek, public information officer.”