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Permafund hits new high

Surge in domestic, international stocks could help boost dividend

Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Alaska Permanent Fund has hit a new threshold of $32 billion dollars.

The milestone announced Friday was achieved with the recent surge in domestic and international stocks, which grew 8.5 percent and 11 percent respectively since July, according to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.

The fund crossed $30 billion for the first time in February. It really picked up speed in November, regaining $400 million lost in October and then growing an additional $800 million.

Juneau resident Tony Steele said the fund's growth is a good thing even though his annual dividend check has shrunk in recent years. "It's free money, no matter how you look at it," he said.

"I am not, but a lot of people are really dependent on that money," Steele said.

The annual dividend check is expected to rise somewhat in the future. The checks are calculated on a five-year basis, and the past five-year period included two of the worst performance years for the fund: 2001 and 2002.

The permanent fund didn't earn any money in those years, said Bob Bartholomew, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.'s chief operating officer.

"You should see the dividend slowly grow. Last year should have been the bottom of the (negative) cycle," Bartholomew said.

This year's check, at $845.76, was the smallest since 1988. The largest dividend, paid in 2000, was $1,963.

But some are suspicious about the Legislature's attitude toward the 30-year-old fund.

So far, legislative proposals to dip into the fund's earnings have failed, but new ideas pop up on a constant basis.

Gov. Frank Murkowski recently proposed using earnings from the Amerada Hess account within the permanent fund as a revenue source to re-establish a community revenue sharing program. The Amerada Hess account is not used to calculate the annual dividends paid out to all Alaskans.

The idea has received some backing from Republicans within the Legislature.

Gov. Murkowski said in a prepared statement Friday that the fund's new growth is something to be grateful for during the Thanksgiving week.

"This new milestone of $32 billion reflects the steady management of the (fund's) trustees in good markets and bad, as well as the Legislature's contributions to the fund's principal over the years," Murkowski said.

The fund has basically grown $1.2 billion since July 1, Bartholomew said.

That follows on a trend of positive growth for the past two-and-a-half years, Bartholomew added.

"In the short term, we caution that it doesn't mean a lot ... but growth does get reflected in earnings ... and how it comes out in the dividend," he said.

The growth of the fund since July exceeds the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation's projections for the 2005-2006 fiscal year, which began in July.

"Our goal is to grow 8 percent for the year .. we've earned just under 6 percent," Bartholomew said.

The future is unpredictable, but "being at 6 percent right now is a good feeling," Bartholomew said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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