Corporate pension plans had the highest returns in 2009 among funds in the Northern Trust universe, returning a median 22.3% for the year.
Public funds returned a median 20.3% for the same period, and foundations and endowments had a median return of 17.9%, according to a Northern Trust news release.
In the fourth quarter, public funds led with a median 3.7% gain, while foundations and endowments reported a median 3.6% return and corporate plans, 3.3%.
“Strong but not spectacular returns in the fourth quarter capped a volatile year in which plan sponsors experienced one of their worst quarters in the January-to-March period, followed by two of their best quarters from April through September, according to our database,” William Frieske, senior performance consultant at Northern Trust Investment Risk & Analytical Services, said in the news release. “The end result is that 2009 was one of the better calendar years on record for most institutional plans.”
Investments in higher-risk asset classes had the highest returns in 2009. The Russell 2000 Growth index, for example, returned 34.5% for the year, while the S&P 500 returned 26.5% over the same period. In non-U.S. equities, the MSCI Emerging Markets index returned 79% for the year, while the MSCI EAFE returned 32.5%.
Performance was mixed for alternatives, with hedge funds returning 20% and private equity down almost 5% for the year.
The Northern Trust universe comprises more than 300 institutional investment plans with combined assets of about $626 billion.