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US institutional plan sponsors finished 2011 with Q4 gains, says Northern Trust Universe data

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US institutional investment plan sponsors in the Northern Trust Universe gained 4.5 per cent at the median in the fourth quarter of 2011, with a surge in US equities creating a positive ending to a mixed year for most plans.

The Northern Trust Universe represents the performance of about 300 large institutional investment plans, with a combined asset value of approximately $689 billion, which subscribe to Northern Trust performance measurement services.

Institutional investors eked out a gain overall for the full year 2011, with a median return of 0.8 per cent for all plans in the Northern Trust Universe. The results differed by segment, however. Corporate ERISA Pension Plans gained 2.3 per cent at the median while the other two segments were practically flat, with the median Public Fund up by 0.9 per cent and the median plan in the Foundations & Endowments segment down by 0.6 per cent for the 12 months ending 31 December, 2011.

"Global market volatility contributed to an up-and-down year for institutional plan sponsors in 2011, with two quarters of moderate gains followed by a nearly 10 per cent drop in the third quarter and a sharp recovery at year-end," says William Frieske, senior performance consultant, Northern Trust Investment Risk & Analytical Services. "Last quarter’s positive results were in line with historical trends in the Northern Trust Universe, with fourth quarter median returns typically being the highest in the calendar year."

Corporate Pensions led in the fourth quarter with median returns of 5.6 per cent, as Public Funds gained 5.4 per cent and Foundations & Endowments advanced 4.2 per cent at the median. US equities were the primary driver of performance, with the median U.S. Equity Program in the Northern Trust Universe gaining almost 12 per cent in the fourth quarter. International Equity Programs gained almost 4 per cent in the fourth-quarter while Fixed Income Programs were up 2 per cent. In alternative asset classes, Real Estate gained 2 per cent, while Private Equity was down 1.6% and Hedge Funds were down 0.4% for the three months ending December 31. Hedge Fund and Private Equity returns can lag the data for traditional stocks and bonds.
 

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