Treasurer calls on Missouri pension funds to sell Russian investments in wake of Ukraine war

Special MOSERS board meeting set to discuss Scott Patrick call for divestment

By: - March 1, 2022 12:02 pm

Missouri Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick (photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick wants Missouri to join other states that are dumping Russian investments from retirement funds.

In a news release Tuesday, Fitzpatrick called for an emergency meeting of the Missouri State Employees Retirement System (MOSERS) Board of Trustees for votes to block future purchases of Russian securities and consider how to divest from existing holdings.

A few hours later, the board announced a special meeting for Thursday afternoon to discuss Fitzpatrick’s request, spokeswoman Candy Smith wrote to The Independent.

By law, Fitzpatrick is one of 11 members on the MOSERS Board. The next regular MOSERS board meeting is scheduled for April 22. 

In a statement issued by his office, Fitzpatrick said MOSERS held $13 million in Russian securities in funds totaling more than $1 billion allocated to investments in global markets. That was based on Friday values, spokeswoman Mary Compton wrote in a text message.

As of this morning, Smith wrote, the value of MOSERS’ holdings was $9 million “of indirect Russian exposure within MOSERS’ global investment funds.”

MOSERS has a portfolio  more than $13.3 billion in assets, Smith wrote. The fiscal 2021 financial report listed $5 million in securities priced in Russian rubles and $116,587 in fixed-income assets.

 “Vladimir Putin is a madman and it’s time for the world to cut him off,” Fitzpatrick said in a prepared statement. “In Missouri, that starts with MOSERS. When he is isolated and alone, Ukrainians and Russians will have their countries back. Missouri stands with the Ukrainian people.”

Fitzpatrick’s call for divestment was seconded by state Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence. On Tuesday, he filed a bill to require all state and local government agencies, including pension systems, to divest investments in Russia and Russian businesses.

“So long as the tyrant Putin is in power, Missouri should cut its financial ties with his murderous regime,” Rizzo said in a statement shared with The Independent. “In 2017, a Democratic bill was put forward to divest Missouri’s assets from Russia, and I’m pleased there is now bipartisan interest in this effort.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, several states have taken steps to eliminate their Russia-linked holdings.

The Kansas Public Employee Retirement system is considering how to divest itself of $36 million in Russian assets, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

The California legislature is preparing a bill to require the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System to eliminate investments in Russian securities, the Los Angeles Times reported

The CalPERS fund is the largest public pension fund in the nation, with $485 billion in assets, with investments in publicly traded Russian companies totaling $900 million to $1.1 billion at any given time, fund spokeswoman Megan White told the Times.

Connecticut’s Treasurer Shawn Wooden is directing that state’s pension funds to sell Russian assets, Reuters reported. Funds in Georgia, Rhode Island and Colorado, among others, are examining holdings to do the same, S&P Global reported.

In his news release, Fitzpatrick also called for other state pension funds “to follow suit in ensuring no public funds are used to help prop up the Russian economy as long as these atrocities continue.”

The three largest funds managed by the state aside from MOSERS are the Local Government Employees Retirement System, or LAGERS, the Public School and Education Employee Retirement System, or PSRS/PEERS, and the Missouri Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol Employees’ Retirement System, or MPERS.

LAGERS has $8.3 million in Russian securities in its $10.3 billion asset portfolio, Elizabeth Althoff, legislative and communications coordinator wrote in an email. It does not hold any securities in firms sanctioned by the federal government, she wrote.

The next LAGERS board meeting is scheduled for March 25.

“At this time, the LAGERS Board of Trustees has not made any decision to hold a special board meeting regarding divestment in Russia, but is continuing to monitor current events,” Althoff wrote.

The PSRS/PEERS fund, the state’s largest with $57.9 billion in assets, has a total exposure of approximately $138.9 million in Russian securities, Susan Wood, director of communications, wrote in an email.

“We are in the process of scheduling a special board meeting,” Wood wrote.

The MPERS fund held $3.1 billion in assets on June 30, the last day of fiscal 2021. Its annual report did not include any reference to Russian investments or assets priced in rubles. The next board meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 29.

MPERS did not respond to inquiries Tuesday from The Independent.

This story has been updated since it was initially published.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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