Among the many contentious exchanges in Tuesday's presidential debate was a barbed back-and-forth between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama about the size and contents of their pensions plans.
"Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?”
“I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.”
“Let me give you some advice. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States.”
Romney is right, Obama does have a small portion of investments in companies outside the U.S. through a pension fund worth $50,000 to $100,000 that he earned while he was state senator of Illinois.
Obama also has investments in things that are counter to his political positions. A look under the hood of his pension fund reveals investments in controversial for-profit colleges and companies that support anti-abortion causes (see below).
Pension funds, similar to other huge mutual funds, contain a huge mix of diverse investments in domestic and foreign firms. Investors don't actively manage these funds. Rather, they are run by managers, who buy or sell the shares.
With broad funds, like pensions funds or ones that follow the Standard & Poor's 500, you "may have some questionable options and for better and worse that gives diversification," said Brooks Herman, head of research at BrightScope, a financial information company.
The fact that either Romney or Obama have some investments in Chinese companies actually only represents a decent, well-diversified investment strategy.
However, Romney's comparison of his own investments -- primarily a blind trust that is worth up to $250 million -- to Obama's modest pension is somewhat flawed.
For starters, the size of the investments is vastly different. Romney's critics have charged that the Republican's trust is not blind, makes use of offshore investments and contains plenty of stocks in companies that are not Republican-friendly, like pharma companies doing stem-cell research or Chinese oil companies who have been close with Iran. The candidate's timing also smells funny: Romney dropped a number of controversial investments on Aug. 10, 2011, the night before he took part in a Republican primary debate in Iowa.
For Obama, his pension represents a small fraction of his wealth. According to the Obama's most recent tax return, the first couple also has about $325,000 invested in a Vanguard index fund. They also have nearly $5 million in cash investments, according to Kiplinger.
Here are 10 investments inside Barack Obama's pension:
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