The ultimate goals and purposes of specific foundations and endowments may vary slightly; however, these investments typically aim to provide stable and reliable payouts to support charitable missions and operations, while maintaining the independence from the institution and growing the endowed capital.
Understanding the purpose, requirements, and investment beliefs of your foundation or endowment will drive management of two critical, and often competing, factors: spending target and real return target. An inherent conflict arises.
Endowments and foundations with an annual disbursement quota are facing a difficult set of market conditions. The typical foundation or endowment is required to annually disperse approximately 3.5% of fund assets and spends, on average, 1.5% of fund assets on the annual operational budget.
Depending on the Spending Policy, the requirement of 5% annual payouts may lead to the fund not taking enough risk, resulting in inflation eroding principal asset values.
When it comes to the Investment Policy Statement, a desire to grow the principal value of donated assets may lead the fund to take on too much risk. This approach raises the possibility of impairment to payouts and the risk of risk of not being able to pay out full spending targets in market drawdowns.
In our ultra-low interest rate environment, it is growing increasingly difficult to both grow capital and generate adequate income on investments to meet annual spending targets. A fund with a 40% target allocation in low-yielding bonds and money market instruments will struggle to preserve and grow capital while spending 5% per year. How best to meet the conflicting needs of a 5% annual spending rule and the desire for consistent capital growth while abiding by asset allocation requirements?
Rather than focusing on current dividend yield, a portfolio of companies with consistently superior dividend growth is the most efficient way of providing both sufficient liquidity and capital gains for investors in the current low interest rate environment.
Growing yield on cost is the single most important factor in providing adequate income to liquidity-sensitive investors such as endowments and foundations. The growing yield on cost phenomena allows our investors’ income stream to grow to meet spending targets in a variety of market conditions. The added benefit of this approach is that stock prices historically tend to increase in the long term with increases in dividends.
 Source: MIT – Endowment Spending: Goals, Rates and Rules. Mehrling, Goldstein, & Sedlacek
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