UNITED STATES - Maine Public Employees Retirement System is moving ahead with plans to grow its real estate programme, as officials will begin the search for a real estate consultant with the next six months.

"We expect that this will happen over this time frame and then we can start working an investment strategy for the future," said Andrew Sawyer, chief investment officer for the pension fund.

The pension fund decided in July last year it wanted to expand its targeted real estate allocation from 5% to 10%.

Like other investors around the country, the pension fund has seen a significant drop in the value of its total plan assets over several months, so while in July 2008 the pension fund had total plan assets of $11.1bn (€8.6bn) by the end of the year the figure had dropped to $8bn.

"We are still are planning on growing the real estate portfolio in the future. We think that in 2009 as the year goes on there are going to be some strong investment opportunities in the marketplace. We would like to take advantage of some of these opportunities," continued Sawyer.

At the end of 2008, the pension fund had a real estate portfolio valued at $478m, split into two investment strategies: a private real estate portfolio worth 4% of its real estate allocation, which was mostly invested in core open-ended commingled funds, and 1% invested in public REITs through a REIT index fund managed by Barclays Global Investors.

Maine PERS may look at a variety of investment strategies in the future which could include core, value-added and opportunistic commingled funds and global REITs.