Eyes on the prize in Canada

The Ontario Municipal Employees’ Retirement System, led by CEO Paul Haggis, has been one of the biggest investors in private equity and real estate—and it’s looking to get even bigger. By Paul Fruchbom.

Though the 78th Annual Academy Awards will take place this Sunday in Los Angeles, Canada may be a more appropriate destination. “Brokeback Mountain,” nominated for eight awards and the frontrunner for best picture, was shot entirely on location in Alberta, while another nominated film, “Capote,” was partially shot in Winnipeg.

Nevertheless, the biggest winner from the Great White North appears to be Paul Haggis, a Canadian filmmaker who once toiled in the behind-the-scenes obscurity of TV shows like “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “The Facts of Life.” Haggis co-wrote and directed “Crash,” a movie which has been nominated for six Oscars, including best director, best screenplay and best picture.

Yet regardless of whether “Crash” gets the top nod, another Canadian—and another Paul Haggis—already has a reason to celebrate.

Earlier this week, Paul Haggis, the chief executive officer of the Ontario

Haggis: Canadian celebrity

Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (OMERS) and no relation to the filmmaker, announced that the pension fund had generated a return of 16 percent in 2005, surpassing its benchmark of 13.2 percent and the 12.1 percent return it generated in 2004.

“We shot the lights out,” Haggis reportedly said in a conference call with journalists.

Like many institutional investors in both the US and Canada, OMERS’ returns were driven by strong performances in alternative assets, specifically real estate, infrastructure and private equity. For OMERS, those three asset classes posted gains of 26 percent, 23.2 percent and 23.2 percent, respectively, last year.

Yet the fourth-largest pension fund in Canada, which oversees net assets of C$41.1 billion ($36.4 billion; €30.2 billion), is not resting on its laurels—in fact, Haggis pointed out “that this year is not every year.” The pension fund anticipates that returns for the next two years will drop to 8 percent, one reason perhaps that OMERS is making a concerted push to increase its already

We shot the lights out.

Paul Haggis, CEO, OMERS

considerable exposure to alternative assets. Though no timeframe has been given, OMERS has publicly stated that it plans to approximately double its investments in private equity, real estate and infrastructure from its current level of 20 percent to 37.5 percent of total net assets.

Equally ambitious are the returns that the pension fund anticipates generating from alternative assets: Haggis said that OMERS expects to see a return of 10 percent from real estate, 12 percent from infrastructure and 15 percent from investments in private companies.

“These are aggressive numbers I will grant you,” Haggis said.

OMERS’ goals may in fact be aggressive—one could argue that Haggis’ ambitions more closely resemble those of his namesake in Hollywood, the land of make-believe. Nevertheless, if the pension fund is able to hit its targets, approximately 365,000 Canadian government employees will have something to celebrate as well.