Global institutional pension fund assets in the 13 major markets grew by 4% during 2011 to reach a new high of US$28 trillion, up from US$26 trillion in 2010 according to Towers Watson’s Global Pension Assets Study released today. The growth is the continuation of a trend which started in 2009 when assets grew 17%, and in sharp contrast to a 21% fall during 2008 which took assets back to 2006 levels. Global pension fund assets have now grown at over 6% on average per annum (in USD) since 2001, when they were valued at US$15 trillion.
The study reveals that, despite the growth in assets, pension fund balance sheets weakened globally during 2011, with the ratio of global assets to liabilities well down from its peak achieved in 1999. According to the study, pension assets now amount to 72% of global GDP, which while lower than in 2010 (76%) is substantially higher than the 61% recorded in 2008.
Carl Hess, global head of investment at Towers Watson, said: “In case investors needed any reminding, the last six months of 2011 have driven home the need to have investment strategies that are flexible and adaptable and which contain a broader view of risk. This approach makes greater allowance for extreme events, which are occurring more frequently, while accommodating the softer elements of risk, such as credit and liquidity. The past few years have focused attention on the multi-faceted nature of risk within our increasingly precarious financial systems. At the same time risk management processes have evolved somewhat to factor in more qualitative measures. However, there is still some way to go before the appropriate measurement and management of risk is firmly embedded in the governance structures of most pension funds.”
Other highlights from the report include:
Global asset data for the P13 in 2011
The ten-year average growth rate of global pension assets (in local currency) is over 6%.
The US, Japan and the UK remain the largest pension markets in the world, accounting for 59%, 12% and 9% respectively of total pension fund assets globally.
All markets in the study, except Japan, have positive ten-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) figures (in local currency).
In terms of ten-year CAGR figures (in local currency terms), Brazil has the highest growth of 14% followed by South Africa (13%), Hong Kong (10%) and Australia (9%). The lowest are Japan (-1%), France (1%), Switzerland (4%) and Ireland (4%)
Ten-year figures (in local currency) show the UK has grown its pension assets the most as a proportion of GDP (by 30% to be 101% of GDP), followed by Australia (up 24% to 96% of GDP), the Netherlands (up 23% to 133% of GDP), Hong Kong (up 15% to 34% of GDP) and the US (by 12% to 107% of GDP). During this time Japan's ratio of pension assets to GDP has fallen by 1% to 55% of GDP.
Asset Allocation for the P7
Bond allocations for the P7 markets have decreased by 3% in aggregate during the past 16 years (40% to 37%). Allocations to equities have fallen by 8% (to 41%) during the same period, although much of this fall (7%) occurred in 2011
Equity allocations in the UK have fallen from 67% in 2001 to 45% in 2011 (falling 10% in 2011 alone); similarly in the US allocations have fallen from 65% to 44% during the same period. Australia maintains the highest allocation to equities at 50%, while Japan has the highest allocation to bonds of 59%.
Allocations to other (alternative) assets, especially real estate and to a lesser extent hedge funds, private equity and commodities, for the P7 markets have grown from 5% to 20% since 1995.
In the past decade most countries have increased their exposure to alternative assets with the US increasing them the most (from 5% to 25%), followed by Switzerland (9% to 28%), Netherlands (1% to 14%), Australia (14% to 24%) and Canada (10% to 20%).
Carl Hess said: “The volatility in markets and the heightened risk awareness associated with possible sovereign defaults continues to make asset allocation incredibly challenging as companies and trustees balance such priorities as long-term de-risking, short-term market opportunities, rebalancing or maintaining a strategic asset allocation mix. These are already complex decisions - which are increasingly being delegated to specialists such as fiduciary managers - without adding numerous competing considerations, such as contributions from already stretched sponsors, contingent funding arrangements, hedging strategies and pension insurance buy-ins and buy-outs, not to mention changes to benefits structures including fund closures.”
Defined Benefit (DB) and Defined Contribution (DC) for the P7
During the ten-year period from 2001 to 2011, the CAGR of DC assets was 8% against a rate of 5% for DB assets.
DC assets now comprise 43% of global pension assets compared with 41% in 2005 and 38% in 2001.
Australia has the highest proportion of DC to DB pension assets, 81% : 19%
The markets that have a larger proportion of DC assets than DB assets are the US, Australia and Switzerland while Japan and Canada are close to 100% DB. The Netherlands, historically only DB, is now showing signs of a shift towards DC, having grown these assets by 6% in the past five years to reach 7% of total assets.
Carl Hess said: “If institutions are finding it tough to invest, the growing number of individuals making their own investment through DC vehicles are facing a real challenge to preserve wealth, let alone augmenting their contributions via net-of-fee returns. Getting the default investment option right continues to be a priority for companies and trustees, while various governments battle the rising demographic tide by auto-enrolling or otherwise encouraging their citizens into sustainable vehicles for cost-effective retirement saving . At the same time companies and trustees are trying to balance the affordability of their plans with employee demands for suitable alternatives to retail savings vehicles.”
Public vs. private sector pensions in 2011
65% of pension assets of the P7 group are held by the private sector and 35% by the public sector.
In the UK and Australia the private sector holds more than 80% of pension assets with 88% and 85% of total assets respectively.
Canada and Japan are the only two countries where the public sector hold more pension assets that the private sector, holding 61% and 71% of total assets respectively.