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Amherst endowment

goeastgoeast - Posts: 80 New Member
edited November 2009 in Amherst College
Can anyone tell me the status of the Amherst endowment …how much did it lose this most recent fiscal year and what effect this lost is if any that loss is having on financial aid ect
Post edited by goeast on

Replies to: Amherst endowment

  • 'rentof2'rentof2 Registered User Posts: 4,327 Senior Member
    Amherst has published quite a bit on this:

  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    That Amherst Student article is a bit misleading. It's not comparing apples to apples. Amherst's investment return was -20%. Williams was -18%. Swarthmore's was -17%. The figures the article cited for other schools included the substraction of the endowment spending for last year.

    Amherst's endowment fell to $1.3 billion. It would have fallen more except that Amherst borrowed $100 million in taxable bonds in January to cover operating expenses instead of taking an endowment draw due to liquidity problems with the endowment.

    The $100 million taxable bond issue for operaitng expenses (the first in the school's history), brought Amherst's total debt to $320 million. A significant percentage of that is variable rate bond debt with ratest that would increase quickly with inflation.

    In addition to the debt, Amherst has an additional $500 million in cash call commitments to private equity endowment funds. These cash calls produced the liquidity crunch that necessitated borrowing, as happend due to similar mismanagement of endowment liquidity at Havard, Yale, and Princeton.

    Amherst is currently planning to increase enrollment by 200 students (100 planned and underway plus an additional 100 to increase revenue). They cancelled 15 of the 18 approved new tenure track faculty slots. They cut visiting professors for this year, will hold steady next year, and cut three more the following year. This is all part of $48 million in budget cuts over the next three years. That will still leave unsustainalble endowment spending rates, so they anticipate additional adjustments.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    To answer your specific question about financial aid, Amherst remains committed to need-blind admissions for all students and loan-free packages. However, they are increasing the expected contributions somewhat (higher work study, summer earnings). They are also budgeting for the percentage of students receiving aid to remain steady. How that will work with the currently budgeted 5% annual price increases, I'm not sure.
  • ncram65ncram65 Registered User Posts: 116 Junior Member
    Maybe Amherst College was lucky, but borrowing money at historically low interest rates in February 2009 turned out to be a prescient move. The alternative would have been to liquidate marketable securities at close to the bottom of the market. (The S&P at the end of February was around 700--it closed today at over 1,000).

    Also while Amherst may have significant capital call obligations to private equity firms, the capital has to be called first and since private equity activity is also at historically low levels, not much capital is being called.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    Actually, the smart move would have been to not mismanage the endowment to cause the liquidity problems in the first place. None of Amherst's immediate big-endowment peer schools (Swarthmore, Williams, Grinnell, Pomona) borrowed any money to cover their cash needs this year. They had plenty of liquidity to cover cash calls, operating expenses, and -- in at least one case -- buy attractive portfolio positions from schools facing cash crunches. The debt service on those 30 year variable rate bonds may look attractive right now, but it may not look so good as we go forward.

    In the privacy of board meetings, I don't think any college Presidents are really patting themselves on the back about having to issue taxable debt to put this year's operating expenses on the credit card.

    Amherst has a $1.3 billion endowment. Let's go crazy and predict a 9% annual return over the next 8 years. That's $104 million a year in endowment return. Gotta pay the debt service off the top. I don't know the new figure until the annual reports come out, but figure $13 million a year.

    So now we've got $91 million left over. Let's say that the $500 million in PE cash calls will be spread evenly over the next eigtht years at the rate of $62.5 million a year. That leaves us $28.5 million left over towards operating expenses. They've been spending $50 to $60 million a year from the endowment. And that's assuming a 10% annual return.
  • ncram65ncram65 Registered User Posts: 116 Junior Member
    Who's to say that Amherst College had to borrow money to pay operating expenses? I think they chose to borrow at fixed (not variable) rates not seen since the 1950's to maintain its asset allocations and to avoid having to sell parts of the endowment at very low prices. Given the amazing rally in the equity markets since late winter, that turned out to be a good decision. No, an excellent decision.

    And to equate a triple A rated credit borrowing in the capital markets to using a "credit card" is silly. Leverage has its place.
  • flufflyoneflufflyone Registered User Posts: 16 New Member
    interesteddad, you often sound so negatively invested in Amherst's financial position. Do you have an ax to grind?
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member

    I haven't seen the terms of the taxable bond offering. Boston Biz Journal does say that one was fixed rate. However, the same article points out that Amherst already had $165 million in variable rate demand bonds in June 2008. In addition to the $100 million taxable bond issue in February, Amherst also issued a $50 million variable rate demand bond to pay for new dorm construction. So they have in excess of $200 million in variable rate demand bonds:

    Amherst plans $100M bond to offset losses - Boston Business Journal:

    The reason they borrowed money for operating expenses is that they had very little liquidity in the endowment. On June 2008, they only had 25% invested in publicly traded equities or $425 million. That fell by 30%+ during the crash, so there just wasn't much to sell off in February. Had they done so, the endowment would have shifted even more towards non-liquid assets. On June 2008, they had 10% of the endowment in cash and bonds, or about $170 million.

    See page 13 of the 2008 Financial Report:


    Amherst is certainly not alone. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford all had to borrow to cover operating expenses this year. Amherst is alone, among its closest peers, in the extent of its budget cutting planned over the next three years -- $48 million in cuts. That's a combination of several factors. They suffered heavier endowment losses and the cost of debt service adds significantly to the operating costs and the size of the outstanding cash call commitments creates ongoing liquidiy challenges. Neither Williams nor Swarthmore reduced their equity positions after the market crash to fund operating expenses. Both had adequate cash to cover their needs (although Williams was initially a little nervous with the wild fluctuations in variable rate demand bonds last fall). Swarthmore had moved more than 16% of its endowment into cash and bonds by June 2008, so they had $230 million in readily accessable cash -- enough to cover endowment spending for four years. They actually bought positions from other endowments looking to generate cash (I suspect, from Harvard which was forced to sell some good positions).

    Just look at the debt. Amherst has $320 million (over $200 million variable rate). Williams has $260 million ($108 million variable). Swarthmore has $180 million (no variable rate).

    Cash call commitments: Amherst $503 million. Williams $267 million. Swarthmore $236 million.
  • KeilexandraKeilexandra Registered User Posts: 5,492 Senior Member
    interesteddad -- Would you be interested in providing similar comparisons with Grinnell and Pomona, the aforementioned big-endowment peers? I heard that Grinnell had a relatively aggressive portfolio, but haven't heard a lot about how they're doing.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    Grinnell's endowment has taken a viscious beating, two years in a row. It's fallen from $1.7 billlion to $1.1 billion and they've dropped from the second largest per student endowment among LACs to probably #5 behind Williams. Having said that, I think their financials are really strong. Low endowment spending, low debt.

    I haven't found a darn thing about Pomona since last spring when the market was at absolute rock bottom. I have no idea. Haven't found anything on Wellesley either.
  • Masterus2010Masterus2010 Registered User Posts: 217 Junior Member
    By taking in 200 more students, does that mean incoming freshman?
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Registered User Posts: 24,177 Senior Member
    No. It's like 200 more students phased in over 5 years. They actually started the increase last year I think, as part of Marx's diversity initiative. That was a planned 100 student increase. They doubled the increase as part of the budget plan. They were targeting a fairly sizeable increase this year, but I haven't seen the new enrollment numbers yet.
  • CorbettCorbett Registered User Posts: 3,438 Senior Member
    As I understand it, the plan is to increase current enrollment by 180 students by the year 2012. Don't know for sure, but most likely this means that future classes will be about 10% larger than previous norm. This would mean an extra 45 students or so in future classes, relative to the previous norm. In this case, the goal of ~ 180 additional students would be reached in Fall 2012, after four "enlarged" classes had been enrolled.

    Other northeastern LACs have also announced plans to gradually increase enrollment, but Amherst's may be the largest. For comparison, Wesleyan plans to increase enrollment by 120, Bowdoin by 50.
  • ncram65ncram65 Registered User Posts: 116 Junior Member
    Another reason why this "sky is falling" stuff on the Amherst College endowment is overwrought.

This discussion has been closed.