Mass. PRIM Reports Strong Performance in Calendar Year 2017

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The Massachusetts state pension fund continues to be a category leader and one of the industry standards for performance, risk management and cost control. The Pension Reserves Investment Management Board (PRIM) produced a strong 17.7 percent return in calendar year 2017 for the Pension Reserves Investment Trust Fund – besting others in PRIM’s peer group of funds the same size or larger.

The $72 billion PRIT Fund saw six of its seven major asset classes outperform their respective benchmarks in 2017 – producing an investment gain of $11.1 billion.

“It is important to put the recent market volatility into context.  The current bull market began in March of 2009 and has been one of the longest and steadiest on record,” said PRIM Executive Director and Chief Investment Officer Michael G. Trotsky, CFA, in remarks to the PRIM Board today. “Since the November 2016 election, we have enjoyed unusually consistent monthly gains: Through January of this year the S&P 500 rose for 15 consecutive months.  So, we believe that the recent February volatility really should come as no great surprise.  Markets do not go up in a straight line forever and … we have been preparing for some turbulence. Strong performance in both up markets and down markets is a strong indication that our strategies and risk control is working well.”

Five Questions on the 2018 Winter Olympics with Attorney David Evans of Murphy & King PC and Arbitrator in the Court of Arbitration for Sport

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The Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea will be broadcast tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC, and Attorney David Evans, shareholder of Murphy & King PC, has some insight into the controversy surrounding the suspension of Russian athletes for violating the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) anti-doping rules. Evans serves on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that oversees disputes in a wide-range of sporting events including the Olympics.  The CAS, based in Lausenne, Switzerland, is often referred to as the “Sports Supreme Court,” is an international institution independent of any sports organization which provides for services to facilitate the settlement of sport-related disputes, through arbitration or mediation, by means of procedural rules adapted to the specific needs of the sport world. David answered 5 questions about the 2018 Olympics and the CAS.

  1. What is the controversy about regarding the suspension of the Russian athletes for doping?

It’s an extremely complicated an unprecedented situation. Last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned the Russian Olympic Committee from participating in the 2018 Olympics due to widespread, state-sponsored doping and falsification of test results at the Sochi games in 2014. The IOC left open the prospect of Russian athletes competing under a neutral Olympics flag if they could satisfy certain criteria. Since then, 169 athletes were screened and proven to be drug-free. A number of athletes banned from the games appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

On Feb. 1, CAS found in favor of 28 athletes, concluding that the IOC had presented insufficient evidence. The IOC openly criticized the decisions (although the reasoned opinions have not issued), and stated that it would not “invite” the athletes to the games. Meanwhile, 45 athletes and 2 coaches barred from competing have lost appeals to CAS, including 13 athletes and 2 coaches effectively cleared by CAS for lack of evidence. CAS ruled that IOC had the right to set its own standards for who is eligible. CAS has established an ad hoc division at the Games for the sole purpose of handling anti-doping disputes. The rift between the IOC and CAS has created much tension, and a basis for Russia to argue that the IOC is politically-motivated.

  1. What role does the CAS have during the Olympic Games?

Besides anti-doping issues, CAS has an on-site ad hoc division that adjudicates all disputes that arise during the games – from complaints about scoring to equipment challenges.

  1. Why does it seem that scoring/judging is somewhat arbitrary in sports such as figure skating and gymnastics?

Anything that is not based on a clock is subject to dispute (and even some that are – remember the Russian-USA basketball fiasco decades ago). It is mitigated in some events by having many judges, and throwing out the high and low scores.

  1. Do you expect that there will be challenges to scoring during the winter Olympics?

Probably not many challenges per se, but lots of complaints. It’s a reflection of the broader geopolitical picture.

  1. The IOC President is reportedly at odds with CAS, is that expected or has animosity worsened recently?

It’s orders of magnitude worse than I’ve ever seen. In my view, it is disgraceful for Thomas Bach (IOC President) to criticize an adjudicatory process (without even seeing the reasoned opinions) and calling for structural changes at CAS “to better manage the quality and the consistency of its jurisdiction.”

A Reflection on the Blizzard of 78

By: Tom O’Neill 

Blizzard of 78February 5, 2018 marked forty years since the infamous Blizzard of 78 struck the northeast. In 1978, I was Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and very clearly remember the challenges former Governor Michael Dukakis and I faced in the wake of such a paralyzing storm.

Snow began to fall on a Sunday afternoon at over an inch an hour. I was at the Garden, where Boston College was playing in the first round of the Beanpot Tournament, losing 12 to 5 to Boston University, our longtime rival. As I watched the defeat of my alma mater, neither I nor the fans around me realized the disastrous conditions that awaited us outside. I was fortunate enough to be able to make it out of the Garden, but hundreds of Beanpot spectators ended up stranded there for days, unable to leave because of the debilitating weather and whiteout conditions. On the precarious trek back to Beacon Hill, I stopped frequently to help stranded drivers push their cars out of snowdrifts. The state soon implemented a travel ban to help protect any more individuals from becoming trapped in their cars away from shelter, as many were.

Early the following morning I boarded an Army helicopter with the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration (today known as FEMA) to spend the week crisscrossing the Commonwealth, checking in with towns and cities as they dug out, and seeing first responders and volunteers help stranded motorists. Despite advance warnings, most in Massachusetts could not fully anticipate the intensity and duration of the storm.  As I traveled the state, I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the lengths that residents across the Commonwealth would go to in order to help friends, neighbors, and even strangers in times of need.

Over the past year we have seen similar selfless acts following devastating natural disasters. There was Darryl Hudeck, who rescued a mother and her 13-month-old son from flood waters in Houston following Hurricane Harvey. Then there was Massachusetts State Police Sergeant Christopher Sanchez, who deployed to Puerto Rico and helped a young, disabled girl find a new wheelchair after losing everything in Hurricane Maria. These simple acts of kindness that transcend generations from the Blizzard of 1978 to present day, reminding us that even in the snowiest of winters, or the most challenging of storms, we are one community.

CEO Thomas P. O’Neill III on the 2018 State of the Union address

Dear Friend,

Like many Americans, I watched President Trump give his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. In his address, the President called for unity.  The words, when read from a Teleprompter, offered the impression of a changed man. But the call stood in stark contrast from the policies his administration has pursued. In his single year as president, we have witnessed passionate resistance provoked by the actions and tweets of the President. From the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter to those who protested against the violence in Charlottesville and voted to change a senate seat in Alabama, people in blue states and red states are organizing anew and taking a stand for American ideals. True to the old saying, the President’s divisive actions speak louder than his rehearsed words about unity. Calls to set aside differences mean nothing if not backed by action.

In contrast, while Representative Joe Kennedy III’s response to the State of the Union invoked a similar message of unity, his words were backed by a compassionate policy platform that seeks a better life for everyone in this country.  Kennedy’s call to leave no American behind was uplifting and inspiring. He rejected the impulse to pit groups against each other, the notion that policy outcomes are a zero-sum game in which some must lose if others are to succeed. His words carried meaning because his plans support them.

Elected leaders should commit that 2018 be a time to search for opportunities to set aside differences. Words are not enough. It’s time to do what’s right for all our people.

Sincerely,

Tom O’Neill

Three questions with John Cahill, Vice Chairman, Federal Relations

webres_120403_oneill_johncahill-0108In the State of the Union, President Trump called for “at least 1.5 trillion in investment.” Is there a path forward for his plan?

The framework of an infrastructure plan was shared in the media a few weeks ago and the reaction to it was quite reserved on both sides of the aisle. Historically, infrastructure is one area that gets bipartisan support, but that will prove difficult in the current political environment. The framework would leverage $200 billion in direct federal dollars over 10 years with the remainder of the $1 trillion plus investment coming from states, municipalities, and the private sector. In practical terms, most Congressional authorizations don’t extend 10 years. Furthermore, most cities and states don’t have these extra dollars available. Mayors and Governors would have to raise tolls or other fees to find the revenue. Rural states with smaller populations and fewer users of highways or transit systems would be disproportionally affected. The formula doesn’t really make sense in its current form – what governor is going to raise fees in order to get a smaller share of federal infrastructure dollars? We will be monitoring the Committees and Subcommittees as they work to craft actual legislation. With 2018 being an election year and so much partisanship around federal spending already, it’s difficult to see a comprehensive infrastructure package moving forward.

We are quickly approaching the next deadline to fund the government. Will we have another shutdown?

The upcoming deadline to reach a new deal to keep the government open is February 8. There is increasing talk of another stopgap measure that would fund the government for another 30 days – and the possibility that this one-month-at-a-time plan may be what the Republicans continue to do going forward. There’s discord over this within the Republican majority, however. Freedom Caucus members want more on the table to strengthen budget caps and restrict immigration. Another shutdown is possible, but it’s more likely that we will see a short term deal instead. Another factor is the impact of tax reform on the debt ceiling. The revenue shortfall will likely require action to raise the debt ceiling in addition to finding agreement on a Continuing Resolution.

There’s talk of the House of Representatives possibly restoring the practice of earmarks. What’s happening here?

Recently there’s been a flurry of comments and activity on whether it’s time to bring back earmarks or Member-directed spending. The House eliminated earmarks in 2011 following several instances of excesses and political pressure to reduce federal spending. Some believe that the elimination of earmarks contributed greatly to partisan divide as Members were no longer compelled to make deals with one another in order to secure funding for projects in their districts. It’s too soon to tell what will happen, but we expect that the possible return of earmarks will get serious consideration before the November elections. Even so, the outcome is uncertain.

February is National Heart Health Month: Medical Device Company Abiomed is Recovering Hearts and Saving Lives

Abiomed LogoFebruary is National Heart Health Month and Massachusetts-based Abiomed is transforming the lives of tens of thousands of patients in the U.S. and around the world with its breakthrough technology: the world’s smallest heart pump, called the Impella.

Smaller than the width of a pencil, the Impella can be inserted through the leg and assists the pumping function of the heart during cardiac procedures so that it can rest and recover. Abiomed is the only company with FDA approval for heart recovery – helping some patients heal their hearts and avoid the need for a transplant.

Abiomed is also one of the fastest growing medical device companies in the world and is proud to call Massachusetts home. Last year, the company completed a major 120,000 square foot expansion of its global headquarters in Danvers, Massachusetts. The new space doubles the size of its global headquarters and provides additional research and manufacturing capabilities, as well as the new Heart Recovery Institute for clinical education. Abiomed is bringing physicians from around the world and U.S. to train in the new field of heart recovery.

Abiomed has supported more than 65,000 patients in the U.S. with the Impella® platform, which is FDA approved as safe and effective to treat patients in cardiogenic, right side heart failure, or during high-risk procedures.

Throughout the month, Abiomed will be hosting Heart Recovery Reunions across the U.S., which are events that bring together patients with the physicians, nurses, and hospital staff who treated them and contributed to their heart recovery.

Stay tuned later this month for more updates on Abiomed!

Facebook Unveils a New Era for the News Feed

We’ve already had a ‘snowmageddon’ this year, and a short-lived ‘government shutdownageddon’, but now–with Facebook’s proposed News Feed changes–get ready for the ‘Facebookageddon’.

It is safe to say Facebook had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year in 2017. The company was compelled to testify before Congress about the impact of ads purchased by Russian troll groups intended to sow discord during the 2016 election. It also come under fire over the way they handle ‘fake news’ and what they do about ‘offensive content’. To combat these sticking points Facebook hired thousands of new moderators, and recently rolled out a new system to combat the spread of false news stories from fringe websites. Watching the drama unfold over the last 12 months, it became increasing clear to us that a sea change was in the making over at Facebook. It wasn’t just us: the warning signs were there, and a lot of marketers and paid social advertisers were preparing for the worst.

On January 11th the tides did indeed change at Facebook headquarters as the company unveiled a new era for News Feed. Citing a need to deliver content that “facilitates meaningful social interactions,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the platform would start scoring content from brands and publishers differently. Originally–as we explained in a previous post–Facebook ranked content based on metrics like clicks, comments, likes, shares, and relevance. While that original algorithm has certainly changed over the years–limiting things like text-heavy posts and images–the new update stands as a major step forward in the way they’ve been treating different kinds of content in the News Feed over the last couple of years.

The social media giant announced it will continue to move away from branded content while putting an ever-greater emphasis on posts from family, friends, and other ‘real people’ you’ve interacted with. Facebook hopes that bringing an end to the age of publisher content will offer a much needed boost to the social networking site, but is keenly aware of the damage it will do in the short term. In a statement released on the site, Zuckerberg admitted that he was aware of the negatives, saying “the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” but offering that he expects that time spent on Facebook will be more valuable as a result. Essentially, Facebook is continuing their pivot from quantity to quality, which means much of the content you currently see on your News Feed from outside sources—videos, promotions, and ‘engagement-bait’ posts from publishers—are about to be a much less integral part of your feed.

So what does this mean for businesses, brands, and marketers? Here’s a rundown of what those changes mean to content creators, and how to navigate this digital end times:

The first thing to keep in mind as a publisher or advertiser on Facebook is that no, your career is not over. Things are changing, but keep in mind that Facebook is still the one of the most powerful and influential digital marketing tools out there.

One of the main concerns about Facebook’s new changes is the way it will impact the organic reach of posts created by publishers. Organic reach is how many people naturally see your post in their news feed, and for digital content creators it’s somewhat of the holy grail of content. When someone sees a post organically there is no ‘sponsored’ disclaimer, and the post is integrated into a user’s timeline in the same way posts from friends are. The prospect of organic reach disappearing for published pages is certainly a concern, but if you’ve been in the Facebook marketing game for a while you know organic reach has been in decline for years, as this handy graph explains.

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Facebook acknowledged this specifically, saying in their announcement that “Pages may see their reach, video watch time and referral traffic decrease.” This isn’t what you want to hear if you’re a publisher, but have hope: not all is lost. Just because organic reach is about to hit all-time lows doesn’t mean you have to give up on Facebook, but you will have to pivot to advertising through the platform.

Boost Posts

One of the biggest recommendations we can offer going forward is the strategic use of the ‘Boost Post’ option. Since the Facebook changes aim to foster quality discussion between real people, engagement is key to a successful post. So, to utilize the post boosting you’ll first want to push out some content and monitor which pieces and formats of content audiences engage with best. Pick your most successful post—the one with the most amount of likes, comments, and shares—and put some money behind it. Facebook will then serve it to users, but because it already had some engagement Facebook will prioritize it because it’s proven to be quality content already.

Facebook Live

If you’ve been on Facebook in the past couple of years you know that video is everywhere. Facebook’s algorithm loves video because audiences respond better to video than any other content medium. Videos also keep users on the site longer because they stop scrolling to watch interesting content, and are more likely to click on related video content. We expect this to change in the new update. Video will still be there, but it won’t be the omnipresent force it has been for the last few years, meaning you can expect drops in views and engagement, even if you’re pushing out awesome videos. One area will probably still be a winner is Facebook Live. Facebook Live drives six times as much engagement as edited video, and users watch live videos three times longer than regular ones.  You can use this to your advantage by using Live for things you usually wouldn’t: live stream your podcast, major announcements, everyday office activities (behind-the scenes), answer questions, talk about breaking news, or anything else you feel could be interesting live. Again, boring content probably won’t drive engagement here, but it can be a great way to get some organic reach if you’ve got something good to say.

Groups

The new update is about fostering meaningful discussion between real users, and Facebook’s Groups boast a high engagement rate because the whole point of Groups is to get like-minded people talking to each other. If you’re already part of some groups you might notice you see more ‘group posts’ than you do posts from Pages you like, and the more comments and likes the post has, the higher it gets ranked. As engagement plummets on publisher pages it might be worth it to create a group for your company, product, or even just a community group for people interested in whatever subject your page is about. If you already have a robust page with regular interaction you’ll definitely want to consider this route—you can channel people from your page to your group, then use that group to post content similar to that of your page, but with a focus on fostering constructive discussions between real people. Once they start talking your engagement will rise and Facebook will begin to place your group posts organically into feeds.

Ads

Just because the News Feed is changing doesn’t mean the ads are. Facebook still has the most robust ad interface in the game, and properly created Facebook ads are still going to be incredibly efficient tools to get yourself or your brand out there. Ad prices are likely to rise with the new algorithm changes, which means it’s more important than ever to use best practices when creating ads. Use short, punchy copy and arresting, low-text graphics. Video ads are always great, but they need to be professionally made. However, even the most beautiful Facebook ad can underperform if it isn’t shown the right people. Audience segments and custom audience lists will become paramount to success. Increased ad prices mean it becomes imperative that you’re serving your content ONLY to segments that are interested in your product. You won’t be selling fidget spinners to nursing home residents, and you won’t get many middle schoolers to sign up for life insurance, so keep in mind exactly who your audience or customers are.

Instagram

Facebook owns Instagram, but they’re different platforms. Instagram has the potential to be a powerful marketing resource once you clear a few hurdles. First, you need really nice looking pictures—if you’re selling a product some iPhone pictures won’t cut it. Consider videos of the product being made, the product in action, and strategic partnerships with trending pages and Instagram thought leaders. The proper use of hashtags can also be a significant boon and can boost views and engagement—much more so than Facebook.

Final Thoughts

While this update certainly isn’t designed to help digital marketers or companies hoping to utilize the immensely powerful tech giant to sell products, the term “Facebookageddon” isn’t completely accurate. Yes, publishers will have to adjust, innovate, branch out to other platforms, and compensate for the loss of organic reach—but all is not lost. Do not abandon ship. Remember, Facebook is still by far the largest social networking site ever, and is still home to active discussion groups, two billion monthly active users, and an incredibly robust advertisement infrastructure. Tactics will have to change, but this is by no means the end of Pages, publisher content, or advertising on Facebook. Have questions? Reach out to us and we can help.

 

St. Francis House and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs Broke Ground on The Union, an Affordable Housing Development in Downtown Boston

On January 16, 2018, St. Francis House and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs broke ground on The Union, an affordable housing redevelopment located at 48 Boylston St. in downtown Boston. Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley O.F.M. Cap., Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin joined President and CEO of St. Francis House Karen LaFrazia, and Planning Office for Urban Affairs President Lisa Alberghini, as well as leaders from business, government and the private sector for the groundbreaking event.

St. Francis House Groundbreaking 1

“The Planning Office for Urban Affairs and St. Francis House working together on this critical affordable housing development will help many people in need, especially the most vulnerable among us,” said Cardinal Seán. “This initiative continues the Archdiocesan commitment to develop communities where all people can live with dignity and respect in homes they can afford. I want to thank Governor Baker, Mayor Walsh, and all who are helping get this housing built.”

The Union is renovating the historic Boston Young Men’s Christian Union building into 46 units of affordable housing – twenty-six units for people who are currently homeless or have been homeless and twenty units for residents with incomes at or below $43,440. This project focuses on providing permanent affordable homes for people of very modest incomes. Additionally, St. Francis House, located across the street, will relocate their administrative offices into the development and will establish a business venture on the first floor of the building to provide job opportunities for the people they serve.

“Creating affordable housing for working families, low-income senior citizens, and the homeless is a top priority for our administration and essential to creating a stronger and more prosperous Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “We look forward to the important housing resources St. Francis House and the Archdiocese will create with the City of Boston through this project and we look forward to working with our colleagues in state and local government to create similar opportunities across the Commonwealth.”

“This project is a strong symbol of how we are working together to end chronic homelessness in Boston and create home for all,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “I thank St. Francis House, the Planning Office for Urban Affairs of the Archdiocese of Boston and all partners involved for their incredible and compassionate vision that will provide supportive housing and a continuum of services to those in need. The strength of our city’s character is measured by how we treat every single member of our community and this groundbreaking is another step of making sure everyone has a place to call home.”

The 48 Boylston Street property was originally built by the Boston Young Men’s Christian Union in 1875 to pursue its mission of engaging in charitable work, and was operated by the Union for over 150 years. St. Francis House and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs of the Archdiocese are honoring that legacy by continuing to use the property by serving those in need. Both St. Francis House and the Planning Office for Urban Affairs are deeply rooted in a commitment to social justice and serving others and saw an opportunity to join together for this project. This innovative partnership was created with the help of funding from the Massachusetts Housing Partnership.

Financing for The Union includes funding from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development and MassHousing; the City of Boston Neighborhood Housing Trust and Department of Neighborhood Development; Bank of America Merrill Lynch; the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation; Eastern Bank and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston.

The adaptive reuse of the building will be completed to the to the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Preservation and the development is utilizing both Federal Historic Tax Credits, and Massachusetts State Historic Tax Credits provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Construction is expected to be completed in mid-December 2018.

O’Neill and Associates sends our condolences to the family and friends of Carol Troxell, President of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace Merchants Association who passed away today.

O’Neill and Associates sends our condolences to the family and friends of Carol Troxell, President of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace Merchants Association who passed away today.  Carol was not only a client, but also a friend who worked tirelessly for the Faneuil Hall Marketplace merchants. Carol was instrumental in putting Faneuil Hall Marketplace on the map as a “must do/must see” holiday destination as she helped to conceive “Blink”, the show that featured the region’s largest Christmas Tree (always 85 feet or taller!) with a synchronized light and sound show that attracted thousands of visitors from near and far.

Carol always wanted to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate and she made a big impact through the nonprofit, Pitching in for Kids, that she founded with her business partner Sara Youngelson. Pitching in For Kids provides specifically earmarked grants designed to improve the lives of children across the New England region through sports-related fundraising events and programs.

Carol was committed to helping others in many ways, through her businesses, through her philanthropic work, and through her faith. She will be missed.

CT