Harvard Endowment Chief Slashed Value of Some Investments

The decision by the Harvard University endowment fund last year to write-down its nearly $4 billion in natural resource investments by more than 25% has made it the worst performer among the Ivy League, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

According to the article, the $37 billion endowment’s new chief “Narv” Narvekar would have slashed the valuations further if not for pushback from other board members. As it is, the write-downs resulted in the endowment’s return (for the fiscal year-ended June 30, 2017) dropping from 11% to 8.1%.

“The magnitude of Harvard’s write-down and the lack of detail disclosed about it, the article reports, “have sparked a debate among university and endowment executives, past and present, about whether Harvard inflated past valuations or if Mr. Narvekar was overly aggressive in pushing for write-downs.”

After taking the post last December, Mr. Narvekar expressed his opinion that the endowment suffered from “deep structural problems” that would take five years to correct. Board Chairman Paul Finnegan said in a statement, “Certain assets in the natural resource portfolio are suffering severe challenges and the current valuations reflect an updated view of the prospects for the assets.”

While some outside appraisers and valuation professionals describe the de-valuations as unusual, the article says that those familiar with the endowment argue, “it was natural that there might be a change in opinion on some investments’ worth under a new endowment chief, turnover in the natural-resources team and a relatively new board.”