“There will more disparity in returns for the first time in five years once all the universities and colleges have posted their results,” Mr. Adkerson said.
Other sore spots for endowments during their most recent fiscal year were commodities and natural resources, which also were negatively impacted by the strength of the U.S. dollar, he said.
What did do very well were venture capital and real estate, Mr. Adkerson said, with returns in excess of 20%.
“For endowments with fiscal (year) returns over 10% in 2015, especially among the northeastern Ivies and the private universities in California, chances are that they owned both venture and private real estate,” Mr. Adkerson said.
The tendency of larger endowments to own more venture capital and real estate, including campus real estate they might be holding for future development, will further separate their returns from those of smaller institutions over the coming years, Mr. Adkerson said.
The key to the smaller sized Bowdoin's successful 2015 returns couldn't be determined. Paula J. Volent, Bowdoin's senior vice president for investments, declined to be interviewed on the investment approach. The college's financial results, which will include the asset allocation for the endowment, are being released on Oct. 19.
However, Clayton Rose, Bowdoin's president, was not shy in talking about the school's endowment results in a Sept. 22 news release: “This investment performance is truly remarkable ... A strong endowment is critical to our ability to deliver academic and residential life programs of the highest quality to every student.”
The Sept. 22 release of Bowdoin's investment results — nearly three months after the fiscal year ended — is just one example of the notoriously erratic pace of performance reporting by U.S. endowments.
The first endowment returns reported by P&I were released on Aug. 31 by the $3.6 billion endowment of Ohio State University, Columbus, which returned 3.8%, and the $26.6 billion endowment of University of Texas. As of P&I's Oct. 15 print deadline, only 28 notable endowments with more than $1 billion in assets had publicly announced returns.