Man Without Qualities

Friday, October 14, 2005

Yale v Harvard (And The New York Times)

The New York Times reports:
Harvard University announced today that it had hired Mohamed A. El-Erian....[,who] succeeds Jack R. Meyer, the hugely successful fund manager for Harvard, who stepped down Sept. 30 ... When Mr. Meyer took over the Harvard fund in 1990, it was worth $5 billion, and in June of this year, it was valued at $25.9 billion, with growth far outpacing any other university fund. In fiscal year 2005, the fund achieved a total return of 19.2 percent, Harvard officials said today.
With growth far outpacing any other university fund? Is that right? Well, the Yale Daily News has a completely different story:
Yale posted a 22.3 percent return on its endowment during the past fiscal year, beating all of the peer institutions that have reported their returns thus far as it grew to $15.2 billion. Though Harvard's endowment is larger overall, totaling $25.9 billion at year's end, it earned only a 19.2 percent return on its endowment during that period. .... During the past decade, Yale's endowment grew at an average rate of 17.4 percent, compared to Harvard's average annual return of 16.1 percent ...
But the really pathetic thing here is that the state of reliability of the New York Times has declined to the point where one really doesn't hesitate to assume that the student-run newspaper in New Haven has got the right story.

Perhaps the reader is concerned that the time periods don't exactly match? After all, Mr. Meyer has been running the Harvard Fund for more than 10 years, so maybe his big lead was racked up between 1990 and 1995? No. Here's what Fortune magazine reports:
When it comes to running money, though, [David F. Swensen, who runs Yale University's $15 billion endowment] and Meyer are much more closely matched. Swensen, 51, has managed Yale's endowment for two decades and built one of the most spectacular investment records on the planet—up 16.1% a year (while the S&P 500 index gained 12.3%). "Yale has the best returns of any endowment anywhere," he is quick to tell you. Meyer, 60, can't argue with that. Since he got the job at Harvard in 1990—thanks in part to a glowing recommendation from Swensen—he has trailed his Connecticut rival 15% annually to 15.5% (vs. 10.6% for the S&P 500, through June 30, 2004).
Fortune reports Swensen outperformed Meyer from 1990 to 2004 on average, and the YDN reports Swensen outperformed Meyer by 22.3% to 19.2% in FY2005.

So Swensen (Yale) has obviously outperformed Meyer (Harvard) on average from 1990 (when Meyer took the job) to date.

There may be others besides Yale that outperformed Harvard during Mr. Meyer's tenure, I haven't checked that.

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