RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Current and retired state employees want the North Carolina treasurer to answer questions about why the state's pension fund used a firm that invested in Facebook stock.

The 618,000 shares the state currently has in the social media company are worth just half of the $38 per share paid for after Facebook's initial public offering in May, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh (http://bit.ly/Ohhx22).

"Given the fact that IPOs are always considered to be somewhat speculative . people are outraged that some of their retirement money was lost," said Ed Regan, executive director N.C. Retired Governmental Employees' Association, who expects an inquiry into the matter. "On this one they messed up, and people want to know if anyone is going to be penalized for this."

North Carolina invests about 43 percent of its $74 billion state pension funds in stock markets as it tries to make money for the state's 850,000 employees and retirees.

The stock was bought for the state pension fund by Virginia-based investment firm Sands Capital Management. The company is one of Facebook's largest institutional investors, owning 11.65 million shares of the company as of June 30.

A spokeswoman for State Treasurer Janet Cowell said there was nothing unusual about the investment and it shouldn't cause any problems with the state's portfolio.

"This was an ordinary investment by the outside investment manager, made within the manager's ordinary discretion . under its contract with the department," Julia Vail wrote in a statement. "The Facebook IPO investment was less than a tenth of 1 percent of the pension fund's global (stock) portfolio."

Vail's statement also backed Sands Capital's work, although the state refused to say how much money the firm manages or how much it is paid. The treasurer's office said the firm's Large Cap Growth fund produced returns of 3 percent for the year ending Dec. 31, and 31 percent over the three years prior.

One question that remains unanswered is what role Cowell or her top aides played in the decision to buy Facebook stock. Her office would only say the department gets information about transactions "within one business day."

Cowell's Republican opponent this fall, certified public accountant Steve Royal, said a company like Facebook isn't an appropriate investment for a state pension fund. He wants more information about the investment decisions made by the treasurer.

"Do we not have any limits?" he asked. "Are (the state's brokers) free just to do anything?"

Current state employees are also troubled by the Facebook stock buy.

"How many times are we going to have to hear about so many people making money off (the pension) when we are losing money?" asked Ardis Watkins at the State Employees Association of North Carolina, which is advocating for a board to make investment decisions. "There are just so many questions raised by the events of this Facebook transaction."


Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com