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Harvard enriches its funds by large endowment

Harvard University's endowment grew up to $34.9 billion (25.84 billion EUR) in the recently completed fiscal year.

The 23 percent return outperformed the university's own benchmarks as well as the 17.7 percent median for the 151 large institutional funds measured by Wilshire Associates Inc.'s Trust Universe Comparison Service.

The endowment's value at the end of the 2006 fiscal year was $29.2 billion (21.62 billion EUR).

The fiscal year ended June 30, so results do not reflect recent market turbulence. The endowment lost $350 million (259 million EUR) - or about 1 percent of total assets- in one hedge fund last month as credit markets constricted and stocks fell, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

The 2007 year was the first full year that Harvard Management Co., which oversees the endowment, was led by Mohamed El-Erian, who took over from Jack Meyer in February 2006, and had to replace a number of top managers.

"I would term it as a strong performance that came concurrent with a significant rebuilding of the institution," he said. "We now have fully functioning portfolio management capabilities which had been hit by the departure of some talent, strengthened risk management techniques and also strengthened the governance of HMC."

Harvard increasingly depends on its endowment - about 11,000 individual funds - for its annual expenses. The university financed nearly a third of its $1.1 billion (810 million EUR) 2007 operating budget from the endowment, up from about 21 percent in 1997.

Distributions from the endowment fund financial aid for students, which allows the university to admit qualified applicants regardless of their financial situation. They also fund faculty salaries and building maintenance.

Harvard is the wealthiest university in the nation, far ahead of Yale University, the school with the second-richest endowment, which had $18 billion (13.33 billion EUR) at the end of the 2006 fiscal year, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Yale has not yet released its 2007 figures.

Harvard's results reflect trends among larger endowments, which diversify investments in real estate, natural resources and private equity, said Brett Hammond, chief investment strategist at TIAA-CREF.

"The bottom line is that the biggest foundations have the best returns because they also have the highest commitment to alternatives," he said.

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