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MBTA pension accurately reported data, report says

The MBTA pension plan accurately disclosed key financial measures in the five years through 2014, a consulting firm said in a report released Wednesday that was requested after questions were raised about the plan’s accounting.

The 28-page report, prepared by FTI Consulting, refuted a number of issues raised last June by Harry Markopolos, the famed Bernard Madoff whistle-blower, and Boston University finance professor Mark Williams. Their examination found accounting and investment reporting practices that they said may have overstated the financial health of the transit worker retirement plan by as much as $470 million.

FTI said it found no signficant differences between the assets the $1.6 billion fund reported from 2010 through 2014 and those reported by its custodian, State Street Bank and Trust Co.


The firm said it reviewed investment returns from 2011 through 2013 and found three “insignificant” differences from those reported to State Street. In 2013, international equity returns were overstated by nearly 1.5 percentage points, FTI said.

Those differences did not include a $25 million hedge fund loss that the pension did not report to the public or disclose in its annual reports for members until 2013. The FTI report said that internally, the pension fund wrote down the value of the investment in each of 2011, 2012, and 2013.

“The retirement board is very pleased that this independent review thoroughly validates the fund’s reporting results,” a statement on the pension fund’s website said. “The concerns created by these unfounded allegations can now be lifted.”

The board hired FTI in the wake of the Markopolos-Williams report, which said the fund was not accurately reflecting its long-term obligations to pensioners.

FTI said Boston-based State Street held 55 percent of the retirement system’s assets at the end of 2013; the other 45 percent, or $716.3 million, was held in hedge funds, real estate, private equity and “other” funds.


FTI said it and the firm’s auditor, KPMG, independently confirmed the investments for 73 percent of the pension system’s $716.3 million in alternative assets not held at State Street. For 2012, it checked on 51 percent of those assets, and 30 percent for 2011.

In the ones it checked, the investment balances were accurate, FTI said.

Markopolos on Wednesday said “They have not done confirmation on a substantial portion of the alternative investments.”

Williams said the consultants’ report is narrow and “not a clean bill of health” for the pension fund.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority last month said it would raise its annual contribution to the T retirement fund by $8 million to $84 million to address rising liabilities.

In advance of the FTI report, the pension board said it would adopt updated mortality tables and reduce its annual expected rate of investment return to 7.75 percent from 8 percent -- two issues raised by Markopolos and Williams. Those changes will increase the pension’s unfunded liability by $53 million to $868 million, the T said.

According to the pension board’s statement Wednesday, FTI reviewed thousands of pages of documents and worked with the funds auditor and interviewed its actuary, custodian bank, investment adviser and top executives.

FTI said its review was limited to the “specific scope of procedures” requested by the board.

The firm also said its work, with respect to financial information in the report, did not constitute an “examination, review or compilation” in accordance with American Institute of Certified Public Accountants standards.


The report -- more extensive than any the pension fund has produced in recent memory -- came out the same day a Superior Court judge in Boston ruled that the retirement system’s records should be open to the public.

The pension fund was organized as a private trust and does not hold open meetings or disclose records beyond its annual report and quarterly newsletters.

Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.