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Harvard’s Endowment Plans to Sell $70 Million of Cows and Farmland Assets

By Brandon J. Dixon, Crimson Staff Writer

Not even Harvard’s cows are safe as Harvard Management Company—the University’s underperforming investment arm—undergoes a radical restructuring that it hopes will reverse a decade of lackluster returns.

The firm is nearing the close of a $70 million deal with the private equity firm KKR that would see the University unload 8,500 acres of dairy farms and approximately 5,500 cows, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Earlier this year, HMC announced plans to slash its staff in half and outsource the management of most of its assets.

The holdings up for potential sale are only a slice of Harvard’s nearly $4 billion natural resources portfolio, an investment bet for the endowment that has historically performed well and set it apart from peer institutions.

In fiscal year 2016, the University’s natural resource assets—which accounted for 10 percent of the endowment that year—floundered, delivering a negative 10.2 percent return. Then-interim CEO Robert A. Ettl attributed the asset class’s weakness to declining commodity prices and the poor performance of South American investments.

Quoting an anonymous source, the Wall Street Journal reported that HMC is unlikely to sell its entire natural resources portfolio.

This potential transaction comes soon after Colin Butterfield, the new head of natural resources at the firm, said he was “pausing” investments in fossil fuels, a historically contentious asset. A few months prior, HMC said it would “refine,” or sell, of some of its natural resource holdings.

As the fiscal year nears its close, all eyes are on the endowment’s performance to see if Harvard will recover any of the losses it suffered last fiscal year. In fiscal year 2016, HMC announced a negative 2 percent return—a loss which, when combined with other cash flows at Harvard, reduced the endowment’s value by $2 billion. Harvard still boasts the largest educational endowment in the world, valued at $35.7 billion.

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

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