German asset manager Allianz has been accused of making reckless bets with the pensions of American teachers, truck drivers, subway workers and firefighters during the coronavirus market meltdown earlier this year.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which operates the New York City subway, and the retirement fund for public school teachers in Arkansas are among the investors seeking damages from Allianz Global Investors for losses totaling over $3 billion, according to court records.
At least six separate complaints demanding a jury trial have been filed against Allianz (ALIZF) in the Southern District of New York since July. Allianz (ALIZF) has denied wrongdoing and said the lawsuits are without merit.
The pension funds, which invested in Allianz hedge funds on the assurance that they were protected against a market crash, claim in court documents that the asset manager mismanaged the funds by abandoning its professed investment strategy without informing its clients.
The “negligent and imprudent” actions meant that the “hard-earned pension funds” of essential workers were “decimated,” the MTA, which employs more than 70,000 workers across New York City’s transport system, said in court papers.
Market turmoil relating to the coronavirus pandemic wiped billions off global stock markets in March and hammered investment portfolios. While stocks have since rebounded, Allianz Global Investors was forced to liquidate two of its hedge funds as a result of steep losses, prompting the litigation from investors.
“As a result of Allianz’s breaches, a substantial portion of [the pension plan] assets meant to provide retirement security to thousands of employees and their beneficiaries was wiped out,” according to the lawsuit filed by health plan provider the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Its retirement plans, which provide pensions for people employed by insurers in its network, lost more than $2 billion in the Allianz funds.
The Teamsters union, which represents truck drivers, has made similar allegations, along with Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University. The pension funds for police, firefighters and city employees in Fairfield, Connecticut, have also filed a suit.
In each case, pension fund managers said in court documents that they were promised returns regardless of market direction and volatility, along with protection against sudden and extreme market downturns. They allege Allianz deviated from its investment mandate, and made decisions as markets plummeted that exposed the funds to additional losses.
A spokesperson for Allianz Global Investors said that the allegations made by claimants are “legally and factually flawed.”
The claimants are professional investors who “bought these hedge funds in the knowledge that they sought to deliver substantial returns,” the spokesperson told CNN Business. “As was fully disclosed, the funds involved risks commensurate with those higher returns.”
An internal Allianz review concluded that the portfolio of funds was at all times managed “in accordance with its design,” according to a report posted to the company’s website in July.
“While the losses suffered in the portfolio are deeply disappointing, our analysis to date confirms that those losses were not the result of any failure in the portfolio’s investment strategy or risk management processes,” it said.