director of natural resources investments

Bruce Zimmerman, CEO of UTIMCO, met with UTIMCO board members Thursday morning. The conference covered topics such as UTIMCO investments and how foreign oil activities may affect the University’s endowment and the Permanent University Fund.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

University of Texas Investment Management Company officials released a report Thursday detailing the effects of falling oil prices on the Permanent University Fund (PUF). 

The PUF is an endowment containing 2.1 million acres in West Texas that was created by the Texas Constitution in 1876 to benefit the UT and Texas A&M University systems.

According to Mark Warner, managing director of natural resources investments, falling oil prices over the course of the last four months slightly hampered the assets UTIMCO manages, which total $34.5 billion. Domestic oil prices declined by 60 percent from a peak in late April 2014 before bottoming out in late November 2014. However, over the five months, the endowment maintained a return of 4 percent.

Bruce Zimmerman, UTIMCO chief executive officer and chief information officer, said the investments made under UTIMCO are made safely to protect the funds that support the UT System schools.

“Our first line of defense is a diversified portfolio because, generally, not everything is going up at the same time, and, generally, not everything is going down at the same time,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said falling oil prices from April to November could actually help raise the endowment’s value.

“Our best guess, our best projection, is that the supply shock — excess supply, lower prices — is actually a slight positive for the endowment,” Zimmerman said. “Now, it’s clearly a negative for the energy industry, clearly a negative for the state of Texas … but this really gets at around 10 percent of our exposure is in energy; 90 percent is outside of energy.”

Zimmerman said only 10 percent of the total investments made by UTIMCO are in the energy industry. The other 90 percent of investments are made in sectors of the economy that ordinarily improve when oil prices decline. For consumers, lower oil prices mean cheaper gas, cheaper goods and more spending money to stimulate the economy.

“Our investment returns, we think, will be slightly helped by the reduction in oil because there are more consumers than producers, and the consumers get a benefit,” Zimmerman said.

Warner, the managing director of natural resources investments, said he looked at the correlation between the value of the energy portfolio, the investments in the energy industry and the price of oil. The report established that, when the price of oil drops, the value of the portfolio drops 10 percent of the price. 

Warner said he has watched the energy industry’s downturn closely.

“What I can tell you is that we’ve looked back at history, particularly the ’08-’09 time frame, and this is historic by any measure,” Warner said.

According to Warner, lenders are more willing to make investments in the current economy because it is much healthier than it was during the 2008 recession. Warner said this makes him feel optimistic about the energy portfolio’s future value.

“We’re hoping our partners are able to be opportunistic; this way, they have the money to do it,” Warner said. “We’re very encouraged by where we are in the cycle and by the partnerships that we have.”