哈佛雇员和校友可能都对此大感意外，因为他们一直被告知，这家捐赠基金的投资管理机构——哈佛管理公司(Harvard Management Company)的表现总是优于基准。比方说，哈佛管理公司的CEO简•曼迪罗9月份就在一封公开信中这样写到：
“这是哈佛管理公司投资回报连续四年超出Policy Portfolio基准。正如我们所指，投资回报超出以Policy Portfolio为代表的市场水平并不是一件容易的事，不是每年一定都能做到的。”
如果跟其他学校进行横向比较，哈佛惨败。哈佛基金的5年年化投资回报率为1.7%。可作参考的是，同期，在美国25家最大的学院或大学捐赠基金中，哈佛是唯一一只回报率低于2%的捐赠基金，排在它后面的康奈尔大学（Cornell University）为2.2%。而且，根据投资咨询机构Wilshire Associates，它的数据库中资产规模超过5亿美元的17只大学捐赠基金的5年投资回报率中值为3.38%（相信样本中没有包含哈佛大学）。
Harvard University has the nation's largest college or university endowment, valued at $32.7 billion through the end of June. It also has worse investment returns than any of its peers over the past five years, according to a Fortune analysis.
This may come as a surprise to Harvard employees and alums, who have been told that the endowment's investment arm -- Harvard Management Company -- regularly beats its benchmarks. For example, HMC CEO Jane Mendillo wrote the following last month in a public letter:
"This also marks the fourth consecutive year in which HMC's return exceeded the Policy Portfolio benchmark. As we have noted previously, earning returns in excess of the markets as represented in the Policy Portfolio is not easily done and is not expected every year."
But the reality is that such thresholds are pre-set as baselines for making sure that the endowment can adequately meet the university's financial needs, rather than judgments on HMC's performance relative to other large schools (or to broader market indices).
On that latter basis, Harvard has been a virtual trainwreck. Its five-year annualized performance is 1.7%. For context, Harvard is the only one of the 25 largest U.S. college or university endowments to have returned less than 2% over that time period, with the next closest being Cornell University at 2.2%. Moreover, investment advisory firm Wilshire Associates reports a median five-year return of 3.38% for the 17 schools within its database that have endowments larger than $500 million (Harvard is not believed to be included in that sample).
No wonder the "Investment Return" chart in Mendillo's letter was missing a certain time period:
Equally notable is that the five-year period matches up exactly to when Mendillo took over as CEO, on July 1, 2008. To be sure, she inherited the portfolio just months before Lehman Brothers collapsed, and most of the fiscal 2009 return of negative 27.3% can be pinned on her predecessor Mohamed El-Erian (now CEO of PIMCO).
That said, other endowments also had to weather the financial crisis. Moreover, Harvard's more recent returns also aren't much to write home about. It's three-year figure ranks 20th in our group, and its one-year return is easily in the bottom half.
Those close to the situation offer three defenses for Harvard's sub-par performance:
1. The larger you are, the harder it is to outperform.