New York City's pension funds recorded investment returns of more than 20% in fiscal 2011, according to preliminary numbers Comptroller John Liu released on Tuesday.

"It's positive news for our city, for our pension funds, and for the taxpayers," Liu said in a telephone interview, citing stock and bond market recoveries and the hiring of specialized asset managers in the comptroller's asset management bureau.

Preliminary data indicates the pension funds are valued at $119 billion as of June 30, the end of the fiscal year. That exceeds the $115 billion peak before the collapse of 2008, and the June 30, 2010, value of $97.8 billion.

According to Liu, this is the first time in 13 years the funds have achieved this mark.

They follow gains of 14% in fiscal 2010 and also reflect stock and bond market recoveries and changes undertaken by the comptroller's office and pension board trustees.

Liu said the managers targeted a diversification strategy that included hiring asset specialists in areas such as real estate, private equity, fixed income, and hedge funds.

"This has been a top priority, to enhance our alpha returns," said Liu, who took office in January 2010, succeeding William Thompson.

Audited numbers will be available in about two to four weeks, Liu added.

The comptroller is the custodian to the city's five pension funds: the New York City Employees' Retirement System, the Teachers' Retirement System for the City of New York, the New York City Police Pension Fund Subchapter 2, New York City Fire Department Pension Fund Subchapter 2, and the New York City Board of Education Retirement System.

The funds serve more than 237,000 retirees and more than 344,000 city and city-affiliated employees.

"There is some variable among our five pension funds, but their performances are not far off from one another," according to Liu.

The comptroller also said the asset management bureau, working with the pension funds' boards of trustees, is still conducting asset-allocation reviews of each of the funds' portfolios to more aggressively capitalize on market opportunities and diversify investment mixes to offset market fluctuations.

Like other major pension funds elsewhere, the city funds were pummeled during the recession, dropping in value to $91.5 billion at the end of fiscal 2009 from $116.7 billion after fiscal 2008.

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