CalSTRS explores new strategies as core property returns moderate

California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) is assessing the merits of increasing its investments in real estate operating companies, as it looks for new strategies to generate returns.

In a board meeting document, the $209bn (€183bn) pension fund said: “We are studying the pros and cons of increasing or expanding those strategies.”

The investment committee is meeting this week to discuss its investment plan for the next 12 months.

Among “future ideas” in real estate is increasing its “handful of positions where we own real estate operating companies”.

It warned that it “will require more staff time” and will be challenging to replicate the strategy on an international basis.

CalSTRS said it continued to strive to increase its exposure to real estate beyond traditional core markets.

“Staff has reasonable coverage of the US in the four major asset types,” it said. “It is an ongoing challenge to expand these investment structures to debt investments and specialty product types like senior housing.”

The investment committee meets at a time when returns from US core real estate are expected to moderate after several years of strong performance.

The CalSTRS real estate team, led by Mike DiRé, expects its portfolio to continue to generate income returns of 3-5% over the next three years, but capital appreciation is projected to drop from 5-8% to 1-3%.

“US real estate returns have been strong for seven years driven by a recovering economy, limited construction and declining interest rates,” the board meeting document said.

CalSTRS has an absolute return objective of 7.7% for core real estate and 9% for non-core real estate, and a relative return objective of outperforming the ODCE open-ended fund index – a core US real estate benchmark – by 70bps.

“We believe it will be a challenge to attain an 8% overall return, especially if the US economy slows down,” it said. “Beating our benchmark will also be a challenge as we are overweighting lower risk strategies”.

The pension fund allocates 60% of its real estate portfolio to core investments, with the remainder split evenly between value-added and opportunistic strategies.

CalSTRS has $25bn invested in real estate, representing approximately 12% of its total assets. To reach its target allocation of 13%, it would need to make close to $2bn in new invesmtents in the asset class.

The pension fund told IPE Real Estate that it does not typically allocate a specific amount of capital to real estate on an annual basis, but prefers to invest opportunistically.

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