by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If you had $90 billion to invest, how would you do it? For Dale Folwell, it’s a serious question. As the newly elected treasurer of North Carolina, he’s by law the one person who gets to decide how to manage the state pension fund for government employees, the world’s 26th-largest pool of public money.
Folwell, 58, became the state’s first Republican treasurer in 140 years partly on the strength of a simple investment strategy he proposed: Instead of paying money managers big fees, the state should use a slim menu of cheap, mostly indexed investments and manage them in-house when possible.
The state paid $600 million in outside managers’ fees, incentives, and related costs last year, seven times more for every dollar under management than it paid in 2000. Folwell envisions saving the fund a minimum of $100 million a year in fees by the end of his four-year term.
“It’s not emotional. It’s not political. It’s mathematical,” says Folwell, a certified public accountant and former state legislator—who’s also been a mechanic and a national dirt-bike racing champ. His calculation is simple: Expenses come right off the top of returns, and money managers as a group struggle to beat the market after their fees. For example, in the decade through June 30, 2016, about 85 percent of large-cap U.S. stock funds trailed the S&P 500 index, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.