Harvard Looks to Timber to Boost Endowment

Jane Mendillo, who took over as head of Harvard University’s $32 billion endowment four years ago, is still searching for an edge.

While Harvard has recouped about half of the $10 billion it lost after global financial markets collapsed in 2008, Stanford, Columbia and Princeton universities have been posting bigger gains. Colleges are preparing to report modest returns for the year ended June 30 after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index posted only a 3.1 percent gain.

“People are competing for outsized returns and there are fewer and fewer of them available,’’ said Brad Barber, a finance professor at the University of California, Davis. “The best and brightest might be able to find something.’’

Endowments and foundations had the worst returns of any class of institutional investor, gaining just 0.37 percent for the year through June, Wilshire Associates said in an Aug. 6 report. Harvard will post results in the coming weeks. Princeton President Shirley Tilghman said last week her school’s endowment probably earned zero to 5 percent on its investments in the period, down from 22 percent a year earlier.

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