BRADENTON, Fla. — North Carolina State Treasurer Janet Cowell said Friday that the nation's 11th-largest public pension fund benefitted from investments in bonds over stocks to return 2.21% for the year.

The North Carolina Retirement Systems ended the fiscal year with assets valued at $74.5 billion.

The pension system is also ranked the third-best funded in the United States with a funded ratio of 96.3%, according to a recent survey by Standard & Poor's.

Cowell said the U.S. markets held steady, but international markets declined considerably. The pension fund's global stock portfolio lost 5.98% over the fiscal year and 5.88% for the second quarter.

The loss was mitigated by "strong gains" in the fixed-income bond portfolio, which returned 11.66% for the year and 3.44% for the quarter, Cowell said.

"Equity markets across the globe have suffered this quarter from the continuing instability in the eurozone and a slowdown in China," she said. "At the same time, movement to lower-risk investments such as fixed income and real estate helped buffer those losses."

With stock markets down, the fixed-income portfolio helped the pension fund outperform its peers. Compared with other public pension plans with more than $1 billion in assets, the North Carolina fund performed in the top 25% for the fiscal year, according to Bank of New York Mellon's Universe Source.

Real estate investments also underpinned North Carolina's positive pension results, earning 7.88% for the fiscal year and 1.72% for the quarter.

Alternatives investments, composed mostly of private equity, returned 5.39% for the fiscal year and 2.15% for the quarter.

The North Carolina Retirement Systems provides retirement benefits for more than 850,000 state employees, teachers, firefighters, police officers, judges and other public workers.

On a consolidated basis, assets of the state's retirement systems have historically exceeded their accrued liability, according to a report by Standard & Poor's last September.

"In our view, unfunded state pension liabilities per capita are a strong $255 and pension liabilities to personal income are also strong at 0.7%," S&P analysts said.

In the June survey of pension systems across the country, Standard & Poor's said it found that funded ratios continued downward as investment losses from 2008 and 2009 gradually made their way through valuations.

"These declines seem to be decelerating and pension funded levels are gradually reversing, in some cases, with close to one-third of plans showing improvement in their funded ratios," S&P said.

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