Endowment Fund nears $3 billion after a strong end to 2020

Tuesday January 19, 2021

(Boise, Idaho) When Idaho became a state, the Congress of the United States endowed certain lands to be used to generate income for education and other important purposes in Idaho. Now, 130 years later, proceeds generated from these lands may soon reach a historic milestone.

The Endowment Fund Investment Board was established to manage and invest the proceeds generated by endowment lands. The endowment fund generated an investment return of 16.3% during calendar year 2020 and ended the year with a balance of $2.8 billion.

The endowment fund generates millions for its beneficiaries every year and distributions in fiscal year 2021 set another record: More than $88 million in distributions will go to endowment land beneficiaries. In addition to earnings from the endowment fund, money comes from timber sales and leases on Idaho’s 2.5 million acres of endowment land.

How did the fund do so well? “As we look back at calendar year 2020, the performance of our portfolio stands in stark contrast to the impact the COVID-19 virus has had on our lives,” Chris Anton, Manager of Investments for the Endowment Fund Investment Board reported to the State Board of Land Commissioners this morning.

“Emergency programs in March and April by the Federal Reserve provided liquidity to financial markets and breathed life into the employment market,” said Anton. “Congress enacted the CARES Act which provided $2.2 trillion in funding to individuals and small businesses most affected by the crisis. This was supplemented by another $900 billion in stimulus at the end of the year. This support and extraordinary efforts to develop vaccines gave investors the confidence that we would work our way through the pandemic and bolstered the performance of financial markets.”

The Endowment Fund Investment Board is the nine-member board and staff that provide professional investment management services to the State Board of Land Commissioners, which provides direction to the Idaho Department of Lands.

Each endowment has both permanent assets – which can never be spent – and a reserve fund of accumulated earnings. The trust also includes 2.5 million acres of endowment trust land. Investment earnings from the permanent fund as well as revenue generate by the land, such as the money from timber sales, go to the earnings reserve fund. The Land Board annually determines the allocation of the reserve account – how much to distribute to the beneficiaries, how much to transfer to the permanent fund to offset inflation, and how much to retain for future distribution.

Endowment distributions support Idaho public schools, universities, state hospitals for the mentally ill, state veterans homes, the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind, Idaho's juvenile corrections system, and Idaho's prison system. The Land Board is comprised of the Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Controller, and Superintendent of Public Instruction.