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Harvard's Wealth Lagging Behind Peers

By Brandon J. Dixon, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s wealth has grown at a slower rate than that of its peer institutions in the past five years, a brief report from Moody’s Investors Service recently found.

The University’s wealth—the sum of its cash holdings and investments—has grown at a rate of 8.8 percent over the past five years, according to the report, lagging significantly behind the median wealth growth of 22 percent for peer institutions.

The Moody’s report compares Harvard’s wealth growth with other American colleges and universities with similar credit ratings. Harvard—which remains the wealthiest university in the world, with a $35.7 billion endowment—received an AAA credit rating from the organization in fiscal year 2016.

“Harvard's significant wealth, and the liquidity and operating flexibility it provides, are key factors driving the university's exceptional credit quality,” the report states. “Preservation of that wealth is especially important given the university’s 40% reliance on endowment spending to support its operating budget and strategic initiatives.”

The report attributes the relatively weak growth in wealth to Harvard’s capital investments, debt repayment, and swap terminations, as well as the endowment’s struggling performance. In fiscal year 2016, Harvard returned negative two percent on its endowment, as opposed to the median negative 0.9 percent returns for peers in its credit-rating bracket, according to the report.

Moody’s assessment comes a week after Harvard Management Company’s CEO N.P Narvekar—less than two months into his tenure as the investment arm’s head—announced extensive changes to HMC’s investment strategies. HMC will lay off nearly half of its 230 person internal staff by the end of 2017 and outsource most of its investments to external managers by the end of the fiscal year, changes Narvekar said will streamline the firm.

In a message to Harvard affiliates, Narvekar said he expects the changes to HMC’s investment strategy and internal structure to be a “five-year process.”

“While I believe HMC’s investment performance will be challenged in fiscal year 2017, by the end of the calendar year the organization will look and act very differently than it does today,” he wrote. “It is also likely that our organization will experience more changes before we have completed our multi-year transformation.”

—Staff writer Brandon J. Dixon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJoDixon.

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