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Entries in International (729)


Re-insurers to test the heat from pension fund rivals

Europe's reinsurers will soon test the strength of competition from alternative investors like pension funds, whose activity may keep a lid on reinsurance price rises and add to challenges for a sector already facing crimped investment income.

Reinsurers, including the world's top three players Munich Re, Swiss Re and Hannover RE, gather over the weekend in the German resort of Baden-Baden for annual contract talks with insurance companies, whom they help cover the cost of disasters in exchange for part of the profit.



European pension funds move away from equities as Eurozone crisis deepens

imagePension fund allocations to equities are increasingly replaced with alternatives as European investors seek to cover themselves from the increasing volatility created by the Euro-zone crisis, Mercer's annual European Asset Allocation Survey says.



With the recent warning from the European Commission that financial disintegration was imminent, the detected trend now seems to have started even quicker and fiercer than was predicted in the study.

The survey, which looked at 1200 European pension funds with assets of over €650bn, found that a wide set of alternative asset classes are being considered by pension funds, with 50% of schemes now holding an allocation to alternatives. This marks an increase of 40% compared to last year.

Mercer's study reveals that pension schemes in what could be called 'traditionally equity-heavy markets', such as the UK and Ireland, still have the largest equity weightings, although they have also seen the largest falls in equity allocations. This is mainly due to the desire to drive away from domestic equities. In the UK, average allocations to domestic and non-domestic equities fell by 4% (from 47% to 43%) during the past 12 months.

  Mercer Survey


Dutch pension funds slowly make their way to recovery

Increasing share prices have resulted in a higher average coverage ratio of Dutch pension funds. Compared to June the funding levels of the funds increased by an average of 3 percentage points to 97%.  However, the funds need a minimum of 105% to comply with the rules set by the Netherland's central bank, DNB. Currently 231 schemes do not reach this funding level and will have to take drastic measures if the trend continues. This could result in 4.9 million members and 2.5 million pensioners seeing their premiums rise and their pensions cut.

Already, most pension rights and payments have not increased in 2012, seeing them lack behind inflation and wage development, thus creating a fall in spending power. At the same time, DNB announced that the total pension premiums over 2012 have risen from 16.9% to 17.4% of people's salary.

  Pension Funds Online


Polish Plan on Pensions Arouses Sharp Criticism

The Polish government is expected to release details of its plan to transfer back to the state $47.6 billion worth of government bonds held by privately managed funds that invest retirement money on behalf of Poles.

Critics are calling it the most drastic nationalization of private assets since Soviet times. The government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk counters that it is no more than a bookkeeping change in the way it will handle the public’s retirement money. It has also defended the move as simply an accounting change that will not harm retirees.

Despite the government’s assurances that pensioners will eventually get their money, critics say that withdrawing the bonds, without compensating the fund managers, is tantamount to a seizure of assets.



Mercer Global Pension Index: Schweiz auf Rang 4


Das Schweizer Vorsorgesystem hat sich um einen Platz verbessert und belegt nun den vierten Rang. Damit schließt die Schweiz zu den Spitzenreitern Dänemark, Niederlande und Australien auf, die ihre jeweiligen Positionen aus dem Vorjahr behaupten konnten.  Südkorea, Indien und Indonesien belegen in der Studie die letzten Plätze.

Dies ist das Ergebnis des Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index 2013, der von Mercer bereits zum fünften Mal in Kooperation mit dem Australian Centre for Financial Studies erstellt wurde. Die Studie untersucht und bewertet die Altersversorgung von 20 Ländern hinsichtlich der Kriterien „Leistungen“, „Finanzierung“ und „Rahmenbedingungen“. Dabei wurden neben den staatlichen Rentensystemen und der betrieblichen Altersversorgung auch private Anlagen und Vorsorgemaßnahmen berücksichtigt.

Dänemark belegt im Ranking weiterhin Platz 1 und erreicht als einziges Vorsorgesystem den Grade „A“. Mit dem Grade-A-Ranking werden das gut finanzierte Vorsorgesystem des Landes, die hohen Vermögenswerte und Beiträge, die angemessene Leistungen sowie ein gut reguliertes privates Vorsorgesystem anerkannt.

Das Vorsorgesystem der Schweiz hat seinen Gesamtindexwert gegenüber 2012 leicht verbessert (von 73,3 auf 73,9), was in erster Linie auf eine Zunahme der Sparquote zurückzuführen ist.



Pension Fund Money Melts away in Hungary

The Ft 3 trillion (12 Mrd. Fr.)  taken from private pension funds in 2011, when the government nationalised such funds, had dwindled to Ft 218.7 billion (49 Mio. Fr.) by the end of July, Világgazdaság writes. The bulk of the money, Ft 1.85 trillion, was spent on reducing the state debt, including the repayment of IMF loans. The state pension fund received Ft 406 billion in 2011, and now manages Ft 218.7 billion after paying Ft 233 billion to former pension fund members.



US: The $4 Trillion Problem

A new assessment of state pension obligations suggests the problem is even worse than it already appears. How much worse? Using a more conservative method of accounting for financial gains in the marketplace, there is a $4.1 trillion gap between assets and liabilities — known as the “unfunded liability” — of all state-level pension systems in the United States, according to State Budget Solutions, a fiscally conservative think tank that deals with tax and spending issues at the state level.

On a per-capita basis, each American would have to fork over about $13,100 to fill that gap and fulfill the promises made to current and retired state workers. The new survey makes the pension crisis look worse than in other reports because of the way State Budget Solutions calculates the plans’ unfunded liabilities.

The group uses a measure called “market value liability,” which assumes that pension funds will earn about 3.22% annually — in line with what long-term U.S. Treasury bonds pay. That measure is more accurate than often bloated assumptions that underpin most state pension plans.

  Wall Street Pit / Budget Solutions


Detroit Spent Billions Extra on Pensions

Detroit’s municipal pension fund made payments for decades to retirees, active workers and others above and beyond normal benefits, costing the struggling city billions of dollars and helping push it into bankruptcy, according to people who have reviewed the payments.

The payments, which were not publicly disclosed, included bonuses to retirees, supplements to workers not yet retired and cash to the families of workers who died before becoming eligible to collect a pension, according to reports by an outside actuary and other people with knowledge of the matter.

How much each person received is not known. But available records suggest that the trustees approving the payments did not discriminate; nearly everybody in the plan received them. Most of the trustees on Detroit’s two pension boards represent organized labor, and for years they could outvote anyone who challenged the payments.

Detroit has nearly 12’000 retired general workers, who last year received pensions of $19,213 a year on average — hardly enough to drive a great American city into bankruptcy. But the total excess payments in some years ran to more than $100 million, a crushing expense for a city in steep decline. In some years, the outside actuary found, Detroit poured into the pension fund more than twice the amount it would have had to contribute had it paid only the specified benefits.“

This abuse of discretion was most egregious in 2009,” said Mr. Moore, a managing director at the firm of Conway MacKenzie. He said the pooled pension trust had lost 24 percent of the value of its assets that year, but the trustees appeared to have credited the individual accounts with 7.5 percent interest.

  Deal Book


Schemes are unprepared for de-risking challenge

Despite nearly one in four pension professionals believing that the level of de-risking will increase dramatically, many schemes may be unprepared to de-risk themselves, research commissioned by EDM Group has revealed.

  EDM Group


NYT: Public Funds Take Control of Assets

Investors responsible for more than $2 trillion recently gathered at a resort in the Canadian Rockies, far from the news media and, more important, far from Wall Street.

Those in attendance, including leaders of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund and France’s pension system, were there to consider ways to put their money to work together without paying fees to private equity firms and hedge funds. Over that weekend, three of the attendees completed the details of a $300 million investment in a clean-energy company.

The group holding the gathering, the Institutional Investors Roundtable, has kept a low public profile since it began in 2011, but it attracted 27 funds managing public money to its latest meeting and is spinning off concrete investments. The group is part of a much broader push by the world’s biggest pension and sovereign wealth funds to reduce their reliance on the Wall Street firms that used to manage almost all their money.

The efforts to change the way public money is managed are motivated, in no small part, by the big fees and lackluster performance that many hedge funds and private equity firms have delivered to their biggest clients in recent years. Investment managers like Leo de Bever, at the Canadian province of Alberta’s $70 billion fund, have found they can often manage their own money at a lower cost without losing out on returns.



California lawmakers urge pension fund to halt Russia investments

Top Democrats in the California Senate asked the state's multibillion-dollar public employee pension funds to refrain from making future investments in Russia, adding their voices to protests against restrictions on gay rights there.

CalPERS, the largest employee pension system in the nation, has $266 billion invested around the globe, of which $1.4 billion is invested in Russia.



UK pension assets hit £2 trillion

ukUK pension fund assets hit £2 trillion for the first time at the end of December 2012, up from £1.9 trillion a year earlier, according to the latest figures from the Investment Management Association.

Local government pension schemes accounted for a larger proportion of assets in 2012, representing 6.9% of total mandates at £171 billion. This was up from £142 billion, 5.8% of total mandates, in 2011.

Corporate pension funds remained around the £1 trillion mark, although in-house occupational pension scheme assets under management grew by £3 billion during 2012.

The IMA’s annual report includes both defined contribution and defined benefit assets. Pension funds accounted for 51.6% of the UK institutional investment market by the end of December 2012, up from 50.3% at the end of 2011, with the insurance market shrinking by 2.9 percentage points. The remaining institutional assets – including public sector, non-profit, corporate and sub-advisory funds — totaled 14.1%, down from 12.6% at the end of 2011.

UK assets under management are split in favour of actively managed funds, which accounted for 78.1% of the market, with the remainder in passively-managed funds. The percentage in actively managed funds increased by 0.2 percentage points between December 31, 2011 and December 31, 2012.

  Financial News


UK: Pension funds deficits can only get bigger without an interest rate rise

Bank of England to hold rate rises

Occupational pension fund managers will be crying into their beer tonight. Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, has in effect ruled out an increase in base interest rates for another three years. And without a rate rise, pension fund deficits are only going to get larger.

There will be the benefit of a stock market rally that, at least in the next couple of years, will push up the value of pension fund assets. But pension funds have tended to be shy of buying a slice of corporate Britain in favour of lending it money.



Norwegens Staatsfonds vor der Aufspaltung?

Wie es scheint, plant Norwegens Politik einen Review des 740 Milliarden US-Dollar schweren Staatsfonds, der offiziell "The Government Pension Fund Global" heißt. Die Idee stammt von den Konservativen, die vor den Wahlen im nächsten Monat in den Umfragen führen und nun  nach einem wettbewerbsorientierteren Modell suchen, um die Erträge der Generationenanlagen zu steigern, berichtet die Nachrichtenagentur Bloomberg. Das langfristige Renditeziel des Fonds von vier Prozent ist angesichts des Niedrigzinsumfelds immer schwerer zu erreichen.

Die norwegische Regierung zieht Mittel aus dem Fonds heran, um das Budget abzufedern, dabei darf der Mittel-Anteil aus dem Staatsfonds aber nicht mehr als vier Prozent ausmachen. Infolge des gestiegenen Fondsvermögens steigt dieser Betrag kontinuierlich, hat der Fonds seine Größe doch seit 2005 vervierfacht und sollte nach Schätzungen der Regierung bis 2020 noch um weitere 50 Prozent schwerer werden.

  Institutional Money


Washington Post Co.’s Real Star Asset: A Massive Pension Fund

The Washington Post Company is best known for its flagship newspaper title sold today to a company controlled by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, but it makes its big money from less prominent sources: A for-profit education business, cable television, and local TV channels.

But while all these assets have their merits, here is one asset that gets must less attention, from the company’s 2012 annual report: That’s a pension plan that owes its recipients just under $1.47 billion, but has $2.07 billion in assets — in other words, it is overfunded by a cool $604 million.



Japan $80 billion public fund may shift funds to stocks from bonds

japanThe pension fund for Japan's civil servants is considering changing its ultraconservative investment strategy to allow more of its $80 billion to go into stocks and less into domestic government bonds, people familiar with the matter said.

The move by the Federation of National Public Service Personnel Mutual Aid Associations, which covers 1.24 million active and retired public servants, follows a shift towards riskier investments by Japan's Government Pension Investment Fund, the world's biggest pension fund with $1.2 trillion in assets.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing public funds to increase returns as part of measures to revive the economy's fortunes. His growth strategy seeks to mobilize Japan's enormous public savings, such as GPIF and the civil servants' pension fund.



Artist Pension Trust Plans Sales From Its Collection

The Artist Pension Trust (APT), a financial services, art lending, and management company which aims to provide retirement security for artists, will begin the first-ever sales of its massive 10,000-work collection, starting in September. All of the art world will be closely watching to see whether this model — and its first major test of the art market — will work.

When artworks are sold, each artist receives 40 percent of the net proceeds of the sale of the work, 32 percent of net proceeds accrue to the collective benefit of all participating artists in the specific trust (each trust has 250 artists). “This allows each participating artist to collectively participate in the commercial success of the other 249 artists.” The remaining 28 percent of the net proceeds are retained by APT to cover all management and operating costs.



UBS survey: UK pensions outperformed inflation over past 50 years

ukUK pension fund returns have outperformed increases in UK retail prices and wages significantly over the past 50 years, a study by UBS Global Asset Management has found. Between 1963 and 2012, the average fund returned slightly above 10 per cent – 4.2 percentage points ahead of retail price inflation and 2.6 percentage points above wage inflation, UBS’s latest annual pension study reveals.

“Essentially, the whole point of the DB pension market is to collectivise risk and to allow a population of investors to take risks that perhaps on their own they wouldn’t be comfortable taking,” he says. The findings also support the widely held – and hotly pursued – view that equities perform better than bonds over the long term. The report showed that UK equities produced an average return of 11.8 per cent annually in the 50 years to 2012.

Figures for 2011, however, were not particularly stellar, with pension fund returns falling to 3.6 per cent and slumping behind retail price inflation. Despite this stall, returns bounced back in 2012, hitting 8.4 per cent. For the 10 years to 2012 the average UK fund returned 8.3 per cent – slightly lower than the return over 50 years.

The UBS study also highlighted the growing interest in “smart beta” strategies, which are intended to provide better risk and return trade-off than normal market cap weighted indices. Appetite for such strategies, finds the report, is expected to continue to grow. But it warns that the merits of such products “seem quite variable” in some cases.



Detroit Plans to Cut Pensions

Detroit’s pension shortfall accounts for about $3.5 billion of the $18 billion in debts that led the city to file for bankruptcy. How it handles this problem — of not enough money set aside to pay the pensions it has promised its workers — is being closely watched by other cities with fiscal troubles.

The city’s emergency manager, has called for “significant cuts” to the pensions of current retirees. His plan is being fought vigorously by unions that point out that pensions are protected by Michigan’s Constitution, which calls them a contractual obligation that “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

The average pension benefit in Detroit is not especially high. The average annual payment is about $19,000, said a spokesman for the pension funds. And it is about $30,000 for retired police officers and firefighters, who do not get Social Security benefits, he said. Some retired workers get larger pensions, though: about 82 retirees who either worked many years or had high-salaried jobs are paid pensions of more than $90,000 a year, he said.

The $3.5bn in pension fund liabilities that Detroit included in its bankruptcy filing last week may be significantly understated because of a combination of overly optimistic assumptions and questionable investments, according to Kevyn Orr, the city’s emergency manager, and those who work with him.

  NYT / FT


BBC's pension bill rises to £2 billion

The BBC’s pensions bill has soared to £2 billion, leaving licence fee payers having to stump up to meet the increasing costs that include six-figure payouts to bosses.

One 55-year-old executive who took early retirement is receiving an annual pension of £200,000, in addition to a £750,000-a-year salary from his new job, an analysis of pensions deals at the corporation have revealed.

The increasing burden of generous deals has contributed to a £600 million rise in the BBC's pension fund deficit over the past year to more than £1.7 billion, amounting to nearly half its yearly revenue from the licence fee.

  The Telegraph

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