University endowments and pension funds for government employees and teachers are big investors in venture capital partnerships. Now, thanks to the decline in the stock market, these endowments and pension funds have too big a proportion of their portfolios invested in illiquid venture capital and private equity funds. So they are trying to sell those interests -- and I am guessing they will fail to do so or take big losses when they do.
Two of the biggest funds are above their limits. Consider the largest university endowment -- Harvard Management Company -- which had $36.9 billion as of June 30. Harvard has reportedly hired a bank to sell its private equity investments that make up 13% of its portfolio for fiscal year 2009. The largest state pension fund, Calpers, has a 10% target for private equity -- which includes venture capital and LBOs -- and because of falling stock values, its private equity share exceeds the target by 3%.
The forced sale of these private company ownership stakes is not good for the venture capital industry, which saw investment fall 6.9% in the third quarter. There might be some demand for the illiquid shares of venture-backed startups from corporate venture capitalists. But with an initial public offering market in hibernation and VCs telling their portfolio companies to cut way down on their burn rates, it looks like this largely lost decade for IT innovation will end with a nuclear winter.