God & Mammon: Church of England Endowment Returned 17% Last Year

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Among the most successful — if not the most successful — endowment fund investment performances was turned in by the Church of England. The church’s £7.9 billion (about $10.3 billion) endowment fund posted a 17.1% return on assets in 2016, the fund’s best performance in more than 30 years.

The fund has moved into that rarefied environment populated by major U.S. university endowment funds. Several U.S. universities have funds that are larger than the church’s: Harvard ($34.54 billion), Yale ($25.4 billion), University of Texas ($24.2 billion), Stanford ($22.4 billion), Princeton ($22.15 billion) and MIT ($13.18 billion), for example, but none of these funds performed anywhere near as well.

According to a report in the Financial Times, over periods of 10 and 20 years, the Church of England’s endowment fund returned 8.3% and 9.5% per annum, respectively. The best performing of the university endowment funds has been Yale University’s with 10- and 20-year returns were 8.1% and 12.6% per annum, respectively.

The church’s fund is actively managed by a team of 35 investment professionals, and the actively managed portion of the portfolio returned 32.9% in 2016. That return was boosted by the depreciation of the British currency following the Brexit vote, along with good results from investments in emerging market and small-cap U.S. companies.

Earlier this year, Inside Higher Education posted the value of the 25 largest U.S. university endowments, along with their change in size between 2015 and 2016. Here’s how the top universities stack up against the church:

  1. Church of England: 2016 value, $10.3 billion; change, +17.1%
  2. University of Pennsylvania: $10.7 billion; change, +5.7%
  3. University of California: $8.34 billion; change +4.3%
  4. Stanford University: $22.4 billion; change,+0.8%
  5. Texas A&M University: $10.54 billion; change, +0.6%
  6. University of Texas: $24.2 billion; change, +0.5%
  7. Yale University: $25.4 billion; change, −0.6%
  8. Penn State University: $3.6 billion; change, −0.9%
  9. Ohio State University: $3.6 billion; change, −1.5%
  10. University of Michigan: $9.74 billion; change, −2.1%
  11. University of Southern California: $4.6 billion; change, −2.1%

Those are the best performers. Harvard’s endowment fell by 5.2% year over year in 2016, while Vanderbilt University’s endowment tumbled the most, down 7.5%, and the University of Chicago’s fell by 7.3%.

The church’s investment policy maintains that all investments should be compatible with Christian values. The fund contributed about 15% of the church’s overall costs last year.