Two short items from a Friday meeting with Andrew Golden, president of Princeton University Investment Co. (PRINCO), and Cass Cliatt, Princeton’s spokeswoman, about University investments in Zimbabwe and British arms supplier BAE Systems revealed by WPRB last week.
The broad takeaway: while Princeton claims it no longer owns BAE bonds and that it has two cents worth of an 18-year-old holding in Zimbabwe, nothing prevents the University from making future investments in either. Further, Princeton can only offer speculation to account for the listing of Zimbabwe on a federally-filed, public tax form that requires disclosure of investments of $10,000 or greater in foreign countries. What has changed, however, is that investment records are no longer made public due to concerns over “economic cost”. The precise economic cost of having made investments public before 2002, when the current non-disclosure policy was implemented, remains unclear.
While the money manager responsible for the acquisition of BAE bonds is no longer affiliated with Princeton, “the fact these changes occurred had nothing to do with BAE,” Golden told WPRB.
“There is nothing that prevents us from investing in defense contractors,” Golden said, adding that the manager who acquired the BAE bonds “thought it was a good economic investment.”
While PRINCO is charged with overseeing Princeton’s multi-billion dollar endowment and managing funds of several organizations associated with the University, including WPRB, individual investment decisions are made by external money managers. Any non-economic factor applied to investment decisions– what Golden termed a “social overlay”– must be imposed by the Trustees of Princeton University and not by PRINCO or individual money managers.
After a lengthy search, PRINCO could only locate a single, 18-year-old bond valued at around $.02, Golden told WPRB, adding he was “99 percent sure” it was the only investment.
Should PRINCO’s review prove accurate, why Zimbabwe was listed last year among countries where the University has investments in excess of $10,000 remains a mystery. During the Friday interview with WPRB, Golden suggested it was an “out and out mistake” while Cliatt speculated that Zimbabwe might have been listed because in situations where “there’s any confusion” the University adopts a “conservative approach” to its filings.