Yale's Endowment Fund Lagging the S&P 500

Although Yale University’s endowment fund—and its chief investment officer, David Swensen—have enjoyed a stellar reputation in the industry for decades, a recent article in Morningstar argues that the fund’s reputation “owes to its earlier accomplishments” and that, recently, it has been outperformed by the market.

By creating a portfolio of securities that behave like the S&P 500, the article’s author, Morningstar columnist John Rekenthaler, says he “blitzed Yale’s fund over the trailing decade” (except for 2008). He notes, “No matter how one massages the data, it suggests that Yale’s fund didn’t produce anything that the masses couldn’t have attained on their own,” adding, “This illustrates that, even for lengthy periods, luck can overwhelm skill.”

But that doesn’t take away from the fund’s strength, Rekenthaler writes: “Despite its relative performance, Yale’s fund continues to impress,” having fulfilled its mission to disburse a healthy percentage of its assets while outpacing inflation with respect to its capital growth.

Rekenthaler notes that Yale’s strongest attribute is reflected in its asset allocation, adding that CIO “Swensen’s real strength lies in his ability to select funds. He writes, “The benefits of asset allocations come and go. But Swensen’s decisions when hiring portfolio managers is an ongoing boon. After they are implemented, Yale’s asset classes consistently outperform their specific benchmarks.”