New Zealand Super Fund vs the Australian Future Fund

The analysis below compares the variation in portfolio allocations between the Sovereign Wealth Funds of New Zealand and Australia, the New Zealand (NZ) Super Fund (Kiwis) and Australian Future Fund (Aussies).

Many of the insights are relevant for those saving for retirement or are in retirement.

A light-hearted approach is taken.

 

A previous Post, What Does Diversification Look Like compared Australian Superannuation Funds to the KiwiSaver universe, the Aussies won easily, with more diverse portfolio allocations.

However, this comparison is amongst the top echelon of the nation’s investment funds, a Test match of portfolio diversification comparisons, sovereign wealth fund vs sovereign wealth fund, the All Blacks vs the Wallabies, the Black Cap vs the Baggy Green, the Silver Ferns vs the Diamonds ………………

Let’s gets stuck into the Test Match Statistics.

 

Test Match in Play

 

NZS

Future Fund

Kiwi vs Aussie Difference

Int’l Equities

56.0%

18.5%

37.5%

Emerging Markets

11.0%

10.0%

Domestic Equities

4.0%

7.0%

Fixed Income

9.0%

9.0%

Alternatives
Infrastructure & Timberland

7.0%

7.5%

-0.5%

Property

2.0%

6.7%

-4.7%

PE

5.0%

15.8%

-10.8%

Alternatives 13.5%

-13.5%

Rural

1.0%

Private Mkts

3.0%

Public Mkts

2.0%

Cash

11.9%

100%

100%

           
High Level Allocations          
Equities

71.0%

35.5%

35.5%

Fixed Income

9.0%

9.0%

0.0%

Cash

11.9%

-11.9%

Alternatives

20.0%

43.5%

-23.5%

100%

100%

 

High Level Match Coverage:

  • The Kiwis are highly reliant on International Equities to drive performance – let’s hope they don’t get injured.
  • The Aussies currently have a higher allocation to Cash – are they holding something in reserve
  • The Aussies, with a higher Alternative allocation, on the surface, and looking at the detail below, have a more broadly diversified line up – depth to come off the bench
  • The Aussies have a much higher allocation to Private Equity,15.8 vs 5% – might have something to do with their schooling
  • Interestingly both have a similar allocation to Emerging Market Equities ~10% – both are willing to be adventurous

 

The standout is the difference in the international equities exposures, the Kiwis have a ~37% higher allocation, the majority of this difference is invested into Private Equity (+~10%), Property (+~4.7%), and Alternatives (+~13%) by the Aussies.

 

As for the detail

  New Zealand Australia
Infrastructure & Timberlands

Of the total 7%, 5% is in Timberlands, the Kiwis have 1% invested in NZ rural land and farms

Of the 7.5%, 1.7% is invested in listed infrastructure equities, 3.4% is invested in Australian assets, 2% is invested offshore. An array of infrastructure assets is invested in.
Alternatives Not sure how this is categorised by the Kiwis (Public Markets?), they have 2% invested in Natural Catastrophe Reinsurance and Life Settlements.

 

The Kiwis also have allocations to Merger Arbitrage.

The Aussies have 13.5% invested into Multi-Strategy/Relative Value hedge fund strategies, Macro – Directional strategies, and Alternative Risk Premia strategies.

 

These strategies are relatively easy to invest into and provide well documented portfolio diversification benefits relative to other hedge fund type strategies.

Property   1.9% of the Fund is invested in Listed Property, 4.8% is invested in direct property.

 

Post-Match interviews

It is true, the only interview is with my keyboard, and the above is high level and rudimentary.

Nevertheless, on the surface the Aussies appear to have a more broadly diversified line up, which may play into their hands in tougher games e.g. global equity bear market.

There is certainly less of a reliance on listed equities to drive the performance of the Aussies.

Put another way, the Aussies might have a better line up to get them through a world cup campaign, able to hold up in different playing conditions (i.e. different market environments. The exception would be a strong global equity bull market, which would favour the Kiwis. Albeit the Aussie’s performance has been competitive over the last 10 years relative to the Kiwis – unlike the Wallabies!).

 

Therefore, the Aussie portfolio allocation will lead to a smoother and more consistent team performance.

 

Why the Difference

The difference in portfolio allocations can be for several reasons. I would like to highlight the following:

 

Investment Objectives

In many respects they both have similar objectives, to support future Government spending. They are both investing for future generations. The Kiwi specifically for future super payments and Aussies more so for the General Fund.

 

Return Objectives

Interestingly they have similar return objectives.

From 1 July 2017 the Aussie’s long-term benchmark return target has been CPI + 4% to 5% per annum. This has been lowered from previous years, reflecting a changed investment environment.

The Kiwi’s don’t appear to have a specific return target.

Nevertheless, the Kiwi Reference Portfolio, which they are currently reviewing, is expected to generate a return of Cash plus 2.7%.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) in a 2015 research paper estimated the long-term “neutral” 90-day interest rate is around 4.3%. Although this seems high given the current market environment, bear-in-mind it is a long-term estimate.

If we assume inflation is 2%, the mid-point of the RBNZ’s inflation target range of 1-3%, and a lower Cash rate, then Cash generates a 2% return over inflation.

Thus, the Kiwi objective is comparable to a CPI + 4.7% return.

 

Therefore, the return objectives are not too dissimilar between the two Teams, even if we make further conservative assumptions around the long-term neutral interest rate in New Zealand and its expected return above inflation – which I think will come down from its historical average.

If anything, the Kiwi’s return objective is more conservative than the Aussies, all else being equal, this would support a lower equity allocation relative to the Aussies, not a higher equity allocation as is the case.

 

It is interesting, for similar return objectives they have such a difference in equity exposure.

This is an issue of implementation.

The Aussies are seeking a broader source of returns through Private Equity, Alternative strategies, direct property, and unlisted infrastructure.  This will help them in different playing conditions – market environments.

 

Drawdown Requirements

There is a difference in when the funds will be drawn upon i.e. make payments to the Government.

In Australia, legislation permits drawdowns from the Future Fund from 1 July 2020. The Government announced in the 2017-18 budget that it will refrain from making withdrawals until at least 2026-27.

The Kiwis have a bit longer, from around 2035/36, the Government is expected to begin to withdraw money from the Fund to help pay for New Zealand superannuation. On current forecasts, a larger, permanent withdrawal period will commence in 2053/54.

 

Therefore, the Funds do have different maturity profiles and this can be a factor in determining the level of equity risk a portfolio may maintain.

 

One way of looking at this is that the Aussies are closer to “retirement”, there will no longer be deposits into the Fund and only capital withdrawals from 2026. Much like entering retirement.

Therefore, it would be prudent for them to have a lower equity allocation and higher level of portfolio diversification at this time, so there is a wider return source to draw upon.

The Kiwis have a bit longer until they enter retirement.

I would imagine that the Kiwis will move their portfolio closer to the current Aussies portfolio over time, as they “age” and get closer to the decumulation/drawdown phase (retirement), expected to commence around 2035 (16 years’ time).

The Kiwis will likely be considering this now, as they will want to reduce their sequencing risk, which is the risk of experiencing a major drawdown just before and just after entering the drawdown phase (retirement). I covered this in a previous Post, The Retirement Death Zone.

Likewise, they will not want to hold high levels of Equities once withdrawals commence (are in retirement).

Maintaining high levels of listed equities can significantly reduce the value of a portfolio that has regular withdrawals and there is a high level of market volatility. This is the case for Charities, Foundations, and Endowments.

For more on this, see my previous Post, Could Buffett be wrong, which highlights the impact on portfolios when there are regular withdrawals and equity market volatility.

 

Team Philosophy

Differences in Investment Philosophy could account for differences in portfolio allocations. Nevertheless, there does not appear to be any measurable difference in Philosophy.

 

Resources and fee budgets

This is probably the most contentious factor. Fund size, team resources, and fee budgets can influence portfolio allocations. Those with a limited fee budget will find it challenging to diversify equity risk.

I am not saying this is an issue for the Kiwis, I would only be speculating. The Aussies have a good size budget based on their recent annual report.

Let’s hope it is not a factor for the Kiwis, an appropriate investment management fee budget will be required for them to satisfactorily meet their objectives and exceed expectations – as any good sports team know.

This is an aged old industry issue. My Post on Investment Fees and Investing like US Endowments covers my thoughts on the fee budget debate.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

A short history of Portfolio Diversification

Advancements in technology and new knowledge have made it easier to diversify portfolios and manage investment management fees. Greater clarity over sources of returns have placed downward pressure on active manager’s fees.  True sources of portfolio diversification can command a higher fee and are worth considering.

Is your portfolio managed as if it is the 1980s? the 1990s? Does it include any of the key learnings from the Tech Bubble crash of 2000 and the market meltdown of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC or Great Recession)?

Finally, is your portfolio positioned for future trends in portfolio management?

 

Below I provide a shot history of the evolution of portfolio diversification. The evolution of portfolio diversification is interesting and can be referenced to determine how advanced your portfolio is.

 

The framework, idea, and some of the material comes from a very well written article by Aberdeen Standard Investments (ASI).

Unless stated otherwise, the opinions and comments below are mine.

 

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Nobel Laureate and pioneer of investment theory Harry Markowitz’s 1952 paper “Portfolio Selection” provided the foundations for Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT).

Markowitz’s analysis provided the mathematical underpinnings for portfolio optimisation.

The key contribution of Markowitz was the quantification of portfolio “risk”. Portfolio Risk was measured by the variation in investment returns – standard deviation of returns.

Markowitz’s paper led to the concept of an “optimal portfolio”, a framework in which both risk and returns are considered. Optimal portfolios offer the maximum expected return for a defined level of risk.

The benefits of diversification were clear to see. Diversification reduces risk without sacrificing returns.

As the ASI article noted: Markowitz called diversification “the only free lunch in finance”.

MPT led to the establishment of the 60:40 portfolio, a portfolio of 60% equities and 40% fixed income.

Increased Diversification of the 60:40 Portfolio

The 60:40 portfolio dominated for a long period time. This portfolio was also largely domestically orientated i.e. the concept of investing internationally was not widely practiced in the 1960 – 70s, even early 1980s.

The next phase in portfolio diversification largely focused on increasing the level of diversification within the equity and fixed income components of 60:40 Portfolio.

As outlined in the ASI paper, four trends combined to drive a broadening of investments in 1980s and 90s:

  • deregulation of financial markets
  • rapid growth in emerging markets
  • financial innovation
  • academic ‘discoveries’.

Deregulation played a major role, particularly the ending of fixed currency exchange rates and the relaxing of capital controls. This enabled an increased level of investing internationally.

This also coincided with the discovery of the “emerging markets”, leading to an increased allocation to emerging market equities and fixed income securities.

Financial innovation resulted in the development of several new financial instruments, including mortgage-backed securities, high-yield bonds (formally called Junk Bonds), and leverage loans.

The use of derivatives also grew rapidly following the establishment of Option Pricing Theory.

Other academic discoveries led to style investing, such as value and growth, and the rise of investing into smaller companies to add value and increase diversification.  Style investing has been superseded by factor investing, which is discussed further below.

ASI conclude, that at the end 1990’s portfolio diversification could be characterised as including:

  • domestic and international equities
  • value and growth stocks
  • large-cap and small-cap stocks
  • developed and emerging markets
  • government, mortgage and corporate fixed income securities.

 

Fundamentally, this is still a portfolio of equities and bonds. Nevertheless, compared to the domestic two-asset class 60:40 Portfolio of the 1960 – 70s it offered more diversification and weathered the severe market declines of tech bubble burst in 2000 and GFC better.

Pioneering Portfolio Management – the Yale Endowment Model

The 2000’s witnessed the emergence of the “Endowment Model”. This followed a period of strong performance and evidence of their diversification benefits during the tech bubble burst of 1999-2000.

The Endowment model has been characterised as being based on four core principles: equity bias, diversification, use of less-liquid or complex assets, and value-based investing.

Endowments allocate the largest percentages of their portfolios to alternative asset classes like hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, and real assets e.g. property.

The endowment model was pioneered by David Swensen at Yale University. Yale’s alternative assets fell into three categories: absolute return (or hedge funds); real assets (or property and natural resources); and private equity.

For more on diversification approach adopted by Endowments and Sovereign Wealth Funds please see my previous Post Investment Fees and Investing like and Endowment – Part 2.

Learnings from Norway

The extreme severity the GFC tested all portfolios, including the Endowment Model.

The dislocation in markets muted the benefits of diversification from alternative investments and left many questioning the actual level of diversification within their portfolio.

In 2009 this disappointment prompted the Norwegian Government Pension fund to commission a study to investigate their returns during the GFC.

The study was undertaken by three prominent professors, Andrew Ang (Columbia Business School), William Goetzmann (Yale University) and Stephen Schaefer (London Business School). The paper is well worth reading.

This study went on to influence portfolio diversification considerations and captures some major learnings from the GFC. The study brought factor investing into greater prominence.

Factors are the underlying drivers of investment returns.  The Nordic study recommended that factor related returns should take centre stage in an investment process.

As a result, the Norwegians rethought about how they structured their portfolios. Other countries have followed, incorporating factor investing into their asset allocations.

Please see my previous Post on Factor Investing and this interview with Andrew Ang, one of the authors of Nordic study, for further details.

Innovation and pressure on Investment Management Fees

The period since the GFC has yielded an increasing level of innovation. This innovation has been driven in part by factor investing, technology advancements, pressure on reducing investment management fees, and increased demand to access more liquid alternative investment strategies to further diversify portfolios.

The disaggregation of investment turns has provided a new lens in which to view portfolio diversification. With technology advancements and the rise of factor investing returns from within markets have been isolated. Broadly speaking, investment returns can be attributed to: market exposures (beta e.g. sharemarkets); underlying factors (e.g. value and momentum); hedge fund strategy returns (e.g. relative value and merger arbitrage); and returns purely attributable to manager skill (called alpha, what is left if the previous sources cannot explain all the return outcome). For a fuller discussion please see my earlier Post on Disaggregation of Investment Returns.

These trends have resulted in the proliferation of ETFs and the downward pressure on investment management fees. The active manager has been squeezed, with investors only wanting to pay fees relative to the source of return i.e. very very low fees for beta and higher fees for alpha.

These developments have also resulted in the rise of liquid alternatives. Returns once attributed to hedge funds can now be more easily accessed, from a cost and liquid perspective.

Increasingly these strategies are available in an Exchange Trade Fund (ETF) structure.

True Portfolio Diversification

Consequently, there is a now a greater ability to significantly diversify the portfolios of the 1980s and 1990s and take on the learnings from GFC and 2000 Tech bubble.

Increasingly Institutional investors accept that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. This has diminishing diversification benefits e.g. adding global listed property or listed liquid infrastructure to a multi-asset portfolio that includes global equities.   True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth. Investors are compensated for being exposed to a range of different risks.

True diversification involves taking the learnings from the endowment model and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund study.

As a result, the inclusion of alternative investments is common place in many institutionally managed portfolios. For further discussion, see my previous Post on adding alternatives to a portfolio, it is an Evolution not a Revolution.  This Post highlights that more asset classes does not equal more diversification may also be of interest.

Goal Based Investing and the extinction of the 60:40 Portfolio

Advancements in technology have helped investors understand the different dimensions of risk better and move away from the sole risk measure of MPT (standard deviation of returns).

Likewise, there has been a growing appreciation that failure to meet your investment objectives is the greatest investment risk.

More advanced portfolio construction approaches such as Liability Driven Investing (LDI) have been embraced.

Goal-Based Investing for the individual is based on the concepts of LDI.

The move toward Goal-Based Investing completely upturns portfolio construction, likely resulting in the extinction of the 60:40 Portfolio.

This paradigm shift within the industry is best captured by analysis undertaken by EDHEC Risk Institute.  I covered the most relevant EDHEC article in more depth recently for those wanting more information. This Post outlines future trends in Wealth Management.

Future Direction of Diversification

The ASI article finishes by discussing several trends they believe are reshaping portfolio construction. Some of these trends have been discussed on Kiwiinvestorblog.

I would like to highlight the following trends identified by ASI:

  1. Investors continue to shift from traditional to alternative assets, see the recent Prequin Post.
  2. Investors are increasingly integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) analysis into their decision-making process.
  3. Opportunities to invest in emerging markets are increasing.
  4. Individuals have to take more responsibility for their financial futures. This is known as the Financial Climate Change.

 

As ASI conclude “If done well, diversification can lead to improved long-term returns delivered in a smoother fashion.”

I would also add, and it is worth reflecting upon, although the benefits of diversification are without question, Modern Portfolio Theory of the 1950s can hardly be considered modern.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand.  Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Low Return Environment Forecasted

Many commentators highlight the likelihood of a low return environment over the next 5 -10 years or more.

Even looking through the shorter-term challenges of the current market environment as highlighted in a recent Post, many publicly available forecasts underline the potential for a low return environment over the longer term.

The most often referenced longer-term return forecasts are the GMO 7 Year Asset Class Forecast.

As at 31 July 2019 they estimated the real returns (returns after 2.2% inflation) for the following asset classes as follows:

Share Markets

Annual Real Return Forecasts

US Large Capitalised Shares

-3.7%

International Shares

0.6%

Emerging Markets

5.3%

   
Fixed Income Markets  
US Fixed Income

-1.7%

International Fixed Income Hedged

-3.7%

Emerging Debt

0.7%

US Cash

0.2%

 

As GMO highlight, these are forward looking returns based on their reasonable beliefs and they are no guarantee of future performance.

Actual results may differ materially from those anticipated in forward looking statements.

 

The variation in sequence of returns is an additional consideration e.g. global sharemarkets could continue to move higher and then fall sharply to generate a 0.6% annual return over the next seven years. Or they could do the reverse, fall sharply within the next year and then float higher over the next 6 years to generate the 0.6% return.

 

The sequencing of returns is important for those in the retirement death zone, see my previous Post on the riskiest time of saving for and being in retirement.

 

Looking at the return forecasts the following observations can be made:

  • Within equity markets Emerging Markets are offering more value and US equities the least; and
  • The return expectations for Fixed Income are very dire, particularly for those developed markets outside of the US.

 

For comparison purposes, the long-term return of US equities is 6.5%.

 

The Fixed Income returns reflect that more than $US15 trillion of fixed income securities across Europe and Japan are trading on a negative yield.

Based on some measures, interest rates are at their lowest level in 5,000 years!

 

GMO is not alone with such longer-term market forecasts, those from Research Affiliates and State Street are provided below. They all have different methodologies and approaches to calculating their forecasts. Notably, they are all pointed in a similar direction.

 

This analysis highlights that outstanding returns have been delivered over the last 10 years, particularly if you are invested in the US and New Zealand sharemarkets and have had longer dated interest rate exposures.

The Balance Portfolio (60% Equities and 40%) has benefited from this environment.

The last 10 years have been amongst the best for a New Zealand investor invested in a Balanced Portfolio, if they had managed to stay fully invested during that time.

The New Zealand sharemarket has returned 13.3% over the last 10 years and New Zealand Government Bonds 5.9%. Therefore, a Balanced Fund has returned 10.3% over the last decade!

Global Equites have returned 10.0%, led higher by the US sharemarket, and Global Bonds 4.3% over the last 10 years. Globally, the Balanced Portfolio has benefited from the 35 year long decline in interest rates.

 

Therefore, the forecast returns are pretty frightening from a Balanced Fund perspective. Certainly, returns are not likely to be as strong over the next ten years as they have been over the last decade.

This calls into question the level diversification of a Balanced Fund of only equities and fixed income.

This issue can be considered from two angles, the need to increase the level of diversification within a Balanced Portfolio and the effectiveness of fixed income in providing diversification benefits to a Balanced Portfolio given historically low interest rates.

On the first issue, although a lack of true portfolio diversification has not disadvantaged investors greatly over the last 5-10 years, the potential to earn other sources of returns from true portfolio diversification may be of more value over the next 10 years. It is certainly a risk that should be considered and managed.

With regards the effectiveness of fixed income in diversify sharemarket risk in the future, this dynamic is best captured by the following insightful observation by Louis Grave: investors are hedging overvalued growth stocks with overvalued bonds.

What he is saying, is that given current valuations in the US of both the sharemarket and fixed income a Balanced Portfolio no longer has the degree of diversification it once had.

Of course, interest rates could fall further, and provide some offset from a falling sharemarket, as they have historically. Nevertheless, the effectiveness and extent of this offset is limited given historically low interest rates.

Most importantly, given current valuations, there is the scenario where both fixed income and sharemarkets underperform at the same time. This would be like the stagflation environment of 1970, where inflation is rising, and economic growth is muted.  This is a scenario worth considering.

In my mind the biggest risks to portfolios are in longer term fixed income securities or “bond proxies”, such as slow-growth and dividend-oriented investments.  Listed Property and infrastructure securities would fall into this definition.

It is quite likely that those looking for diversification benefits from listed property, global and domestic, and listed infrastructure, are likely to be disappointed. As they would had been during the Global Financial Crisis. They only provide limited portfolio diversification benefits, not true portfolio diversification.

 

The expected low returns environment throws up a lot of issues to consider:

  • True Portfolio diversification. Institutional investors accept that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. This has diminishing diversification benefits e.g. adding global listed property or infrastructure to a multi-asset portfolio that includes global equities.   True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth. Investors are compensated for being exposed to a range of different risks.

 

  • Consistent with the above, there is a growing evolution within the Wealth Management Industry, a paradigm shift which is resulting in the death of the Policy Portfolio (i.e. Balanced Portfolio).

 

  • The growing risks with traditional market indices and index funds, as highlighted by the low return forecasts.

 

  • Increased innovation within Exchange Traded Funds as investors seek to diversify their traditional market exposures.

 

I plan to write more on the last two points in future Posts.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand.  Building more Robust Investment Portfolios

 

 

Research Affiliates – 10 Year Forecast Real (After Inflation)

Share Markets

Real Return Forecasts

US Large Capitalised Shares

0.7%

International Shares

3.2%

Emerging Markets

7.7%

   
Fixed Income Markets  
US Fixed Income

-0.8%

International Fixed Income Hedged

-0.5%

Emerging Debt

4.2%

US Cash

-0.3%

 

State Street also provides:

  • They are more optimistic in relation to developed market sharemarket, with Emerging Markets outperforming developed markets, Global Listed Property underperforms both developed and emerging market equities
  • They see very low returns from Global Fixed Income.

KiwiSaver Investors are missing out

This is a great article by Stuff outlining the KiwiSaver risk ladder, rung by rung.

However, what struck me is that there is a rung missing on the KiwiSaver ladder.

That rung being the lack of exposure to non-traditional investments, such as Alternatives, including liquid alternatives, hedge funds, and investments into Direct Property and unlisted infrastructure.

 

Based on the Stuff article, there is just 1% within all of the KiwiSaver Funds invested outside of Cash, Fixed Interest (bonds), and Equities (the traditional asset classes).

We don’t have to look far to see how much of anomaly this.

By way of comparison, the Australian Pension Fund Industry, which is the fourth largest Pension market in the world, invests 22.0% into non-traditional assets.

As can be seen in the Table below, Australian Pension Funds, which manages A$2.9 trillion, invests 22.0% into non-traditional assets, meanwhile KiwiSaver has 1% invested outside of the traditional assets. (KiwiSaver Total Assets are just over $50 billion).

Allocations to broad asset classes

KiwiSaver

Aussie Pension Funds

Cash and Fixed Interest (bonds)

49

31

Equities

48

47

Other / non-traditional assets

1

22

 

As recently reported by Bloomberg, allocations to non-traditional assets is expected to continue in Australia ”with stocks and bonds moving higher together, investors are searching for other areas to diversify their investments to hedge against the fragile global economic outlook. For the world’s fourth largest pension pot, that could mean more flows into alternatives — away from the almost 80% that currently sits in equities, bonds or cash.”

 

The increased allocations to Alternative is a global trend, which is not just in response to current market conditions.

As outlined in a previous Post, Preqin a specialist global researcher of the Alternative investment universe and provide a reliable source of data and insights into alternative assets professionals around the world, expect Alternatives to make up a larger share of investment assets in the future.

Preqin’s estimates are staggering:

  • By 2023 Preqin estimate that global assets under management of the Alternatives industry will be $14tn (+59% vs. 2017);
  • There will be 34,000 fund management firms active globally (+21% vs. 2018). This is an issue from the perspective of capacity and ability to deliver superior returns – manager selection will be critical.

 

Globally the trend toward increasing allocations to non-traditional assets has been in play for some time. As one of my first Posts notes, the case for adding alternatives to a traditional portfolio is strong.

This Post highlights that the movement toward Alternatives and non-traditional assets is not revolutionary nor radical, it is seen globally as evolutionary, a natural progression toward building more robust Portfolios that can better weather sharp falls in global sharemarkets.

 

Being more specific about Alternatives, Prequin note investor’s motivation for investing in alternatives are quite distinctive:

  • Private equity and venture capital = high absolute and risk-adjusted returns
  • Infrastructure and real estate = an inflation hedge and reliable income stream
  • Private debt = high risk-adjusted returns and an income stream
  • Hedge Funds = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes
  • Natural Resources = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes

 

Therefore, motives to investing in alternatives range from enhancing returns (Private Equity) and reducing risk through better diversification (Hedge Funds) and hedging against inflation (infrastructure and real estate (property), high exposures to non-traditional assets have benefited Endowments and foundations for many years.

 

I have Posted extensively on the benefits of Alternatives, for example highlighting research they would benefit Target Date Funds and the benefits of Alternatives more generally.

 

So the Question needs to be asked, why do KiwiSaver Funds not invest more into non-traditional assets? Particularly, when globally the trend is to invest in such assets is well established and further growth is expected, while the benefits are well documented.

 

Therefore, KiwiSaver Investors are potentially missing out.  Their portfolios could be a lot more robust and better diversified. The risks within their portfolios could be reduced without jeopardising their long-term investment objectives.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Fintech’s Colossal Solution – Uber Moment? Microsoft and BlackRock team up

BlackRock and Microsoft are building a platform that will help people develop better saving and investment habits through more regular engagement with their retirement assets.

This initiative was announced in December 2018 and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted at the time:

“The firms plan to develop a technology platform that will provide digital financial-planning tools and new BlackRock funds offering guaranteed retirement income to employees through their workplace saving plans.”

 

This is close to the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry: technology platform providing retirement planning tools and direct access to new generation Investment Solutions.

 

BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, according to WSJ “wants to shape the technology plumbing that connects it to different parts of the financial ecosystem handling workers’ retirement money.”  And for Microsoft, who needs no introduction, “an investment platform built with its technology could bring in new revenue as it looks to become a bigger cloud-computing player.”

 

BlackRock and Microsoft have made progress since December and FinancialPlanning.com provided further details in July 2019:

“The technology giant and the asset manager overseeing 15 million Americans’ 401(k) portfolios are developing an app and desktop tool aimed at narrowing the widening gap between what workers will need in retirement and how much they’re saving.”  (401 (k) is like KiwiSaver)

BlackRock and Microsoft are looking to reimage America’s path toward achieving greater financial security in retirement by bringing together BlackRock’s investment capabilities and Microsoft’s technology strength.

Together, they are exploring the next generation of investment solutions to help more people make better decisions as they work toward their financial goals in retirement.

Taking advantage of Microsoft’s technologies and BlackRock’s investment products, the companies are aiming to make it easier for people to both save for retirement and achieve the lifetime income they need through their employers’ workplace savings plan.

The firms will begin rolling out their tool later this year.

By all accounts, this is going to be a powerful platform.  I’d imagine some of the tools will be like the BlackRock CoRI Index, which estimates the level of lifetime retirement from current savings.

 

Lifetime Income Focus – Next Generation of Investment Products

From an investment perspective the retirement tool will include guaranteed retirement income planning.

As part of the rollout Microsoft and BlackRock are designing methods of showing workers how much extra contributions today could end up netting them in retirement.  The intended result is that employees “have a clearer picture of how their contributions today will translate to long-term retirement income”.

BlackRock intends to offer the platform in connection with next generation investment products that it will design and manage. The new products from BlackRock will seek to provide a lifetime of income in retirement.

 

Therefore, BlackRock will be offering more sophisticated products than widely available now.  These Funds will seek to provide guaranteed income streams to participants as they get older, an element not common in 401(k) (like KiwiSaver) and other retirement plans.

The funds will be like Target Date Funds, a blend of investments that get more conservative as investors head into retirement. However, the funds BlackRock wants to roll out will also increase their concentration in financial instruments that provide regular payouts as participants reach retirement.  This is a massive enhancement.

As an aside, Target Date Funds would be a good option as the Default Fund for KiwiSaver.

 

Importantly, the focus is on providing an income stream in retirement.  There is a strong argument this should be the primary investment goal and not the targeting of a lump sum at time of retirement. What matters in retirement is income.

The OECD encourages the retirement objective to be the generation of income in retirement and for there to be coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

Currently most investment products are poorly positioned to meet these objectives.

The central point is, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

Therefore, volatility of income in retirement is a good risk measure.

It is encouraging that KiwiSaver providers are required to include retirement savings and income projections in annual statements sent to KiwiSaver members from 2020 onwards.

 

More specifically, the focus on retirement income and use of more advanced portfolio construction techniques as liability-driven investing overcomes one of the main criticisms of Target Date Funds.  Particularly, Target Date Funds should have a greater focus on generating income in retirement.  This means the fixed income allocation should act more like an annuity so that is pays a steady stream of income to the investor once they reach retirement.

The investment knowledge is available to achieve this.

 

Accordingly, BlackRock’s solutions appear to be more aligned with Goals-Based Investing and will be a more robust Retirement Income Solution than those available now.

There is a real need for these new generation investment solutions as many of the current financial products have shortcomings in meeting future customer needs, particularly the delivery of a stable and secure level of retirement income.

It is also important to note that there is a paradigm shift underway within the wealth management industry in relation to the development of new and improved investment solutions.

The industry is evolving, new and improved products are being introduced to the markets in other jurisdictions to meet a growing savings crisis.

 

Defining Social Challenge – Addressing the Savings Crisis with Technology

As BlackRock outlined when making the initial announcement in December 2018:

Retirement systems worldwide are under stress and providing financial security to retirees has become one of the most defining societal challenges of our time,” said Laurence Fink, chairman and chief executive of BlackRock.

BlackRock has a tremendous responsibility to help solve this challenge, and we recognise the need to act now. Working with Microsoft will enable us to build a powerful solution for millions of hardworking Americans.”

There has been a major shift globally away from Defined Benefit (DB) schemes to Defined Contribution (DC).

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.   This has been likened “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum

In America, millions are struggling to achieve their financial goals in retirement.  BlackRock and Microsoft are aiming to narrow the “gap” between what workers will need in retirement and how much they are saving.  This gap is estimated to be expanding by $3 trillion each year!

Therefore, there is a very real need to help people who are struggling with the difficult task of saving, investing, and turning this into a retirement income.

In BlackRock and Microsoft’s view the “shift in responsibility, from corporations to individuals, combined with ever increasing life-spans, has created a need to reimagine a new approach to securing a sound financial future in retirement – one that is powered by innovative investment solutions and the most advanced, trusted and cutting-edge technologies.”

“Technology is already revolutionizing entire industries and the way people interact with everything from health care to education and transportation. And yet, retirement solutions of today have been slow to keep pace. Taking advantage of Microsoft’s cutting-edge technologies and innovative investment products from BlackRock, the companies aim to make it easier for people to both save for retirement and achieve the lifetime income they need through their employers’ workplace savings plan.”

 

Thus, the need for new innovative investment solutions and technology platforms.

This is close to the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Evolution within the Wealth Management Industry, the death of the Policy Portfolio

There has been a profound shift in the savings and investment industry over the last 15-20 years.

Changes to accounting rules and regulations have resulted in a large number of corporates closing their defined benefit (DB) pension schemes.

This has resulted in a major shift globally away from DB schemes and to defined contribution (DC) schemes, such as KiwiSaver here in New Zealand.

 

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.

This has been likened to a “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum.

Couple with an aging population, growing life expectations, and strains on Government sponsored pension/superannuation schemes there is an increasing need for well-designed retirement investment solution.

 

Overarching the above dynamics is the shortcomings of many financial products currently available.

Many Products currently do not provide a stable stream of income in retirement, or if they do, they lack flexibility.

As expressed by EDHEC Risk Institute robust investment solution need to display Flexicurity.

Flexicurity is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching retirement investment decisions.

Annuities, although providing security, do not provide any potential upside. They can also be costly, represent an irreversible investment decision, and rarely are able to contribute to inheritance and endowment objectives.

Likewise, modern day investment products, from which there are many to choose from, provide flexibility yet not the security of replacement income in retirement. Often these Products focus solely on managing capital risk at the expense of the objective of generating replacement income in retirement.

Therefore, a flexicure retirement solution is one that provides greater flexibility than an annuity and increased security in generating appropriate levels of replacement income in retirement than many modern day investment products.

 

Retirement Goal

The most natural way to frame an investor’s retirement goal is in terms of how much lifetime replacement income they can afford in retirement.

The goal of most modern investment Products is to accumulate wealth, with the management of market volatility, where risk is defined as volatility of capital. Although these are important concepts, and depending on the size of the Pool, the focus on accumulated wealth my not provide a sufficient level of income in retirement.

This is a key learning from Australia as they near the end of the “accumulation” phase of their superannuation system. After a long period of accumulating capital a growing number of people are now entering retirement and “de-cumulating” their retirement savings.

A simple example of why there should be a greater focus on generating retirement income in the accumulation phase of saving for retirement is as follows:

A New Zealander who retired in 2008 with a million dollars, would have been able to generate an annual income of $80k by investing in retail term deposits. Current income on a million dollars would be approximately $32k if they had remained invested in term deposits. That’s a big drop in income, and it will continue to fall as the Reserve Bank undertakes further interest rate reductions over the course of 2019.

This also does not take into account the erosion of buying power from inflation.

Of course, retirees can draw down capital, the rules of thumb are, ………… well, ………..less than robust.

The central point, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase there will likely be a higher level of variation of Income in retirement.

 

The concept of placing a greater focus on retirement income as the investment goal is well presented by Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Professor Robert Merton  in this Posdcast with Steve Chen, of NewRetirement.

Professor Merton highlights that for retirement, income matters, and not the value of Accumulated Wealth.

He also argues that variability of retirement income is a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital.

More robust investment solutions are being developed to address these issues.

 

Lastly, it is encouraging that KiwiSaver providers are required to include retirement savings and income projections in annual statements sent to KiwiSaver members from 2020 onwards.

 

The death of the Policy Portfolio

Another important consideration is that investment practices and approaches are evolving. Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT), the bedrock of most current portfolios, was developed in the 1950s. It is no longer that modern!

Although key learnings can be taken from MPT, particularly the benefits of diversification, enhancements can be made based on the ongoing academic and practitioner research into building more robust investment solutions.

The momentous shift is the move away from the old paradigm of the Policy Portfolio. The Policy Portfolio is the strategic asset allocation of a portfolio to several different asset classes deemed to be most appropriate for the investor.

It is a single Portfolio solution.

Over the last 15-20 years there has been several potential enhancements to the Policy Portfolio approach, including the move away from asset classes and greater focus on underlying “factors” that drive investment returns (Although a separate Post will be published on this development, an introduction to factor investing and its implementation have been covered in previous Posts).

This interview with Andrew Ang on Factor Investing might also be of interest.

 

The focus of this Post, and probably the most significant shift away from the old paradigm, is the realisation that investments should not be framed in terms of one all-encompassing Policy Portfolio, but instead in terms of two distinct reference Portfolios.

The two portfolios as expressed by EDHEC-Risk Institute and explained in the context of a wealth Management solution are:

  1. Liability-hedging portfolio, this is a portfolio of fixed interest securities, that seeks to match future income requirements of the individual in retirement
  2. Performance Seeking Portfolio, this is a portfolio that seeks growth in asset value.

The concept of two separate portfolios is not new, it dates back to finance studies in the 1950s on fund separation theorems (which is an area of research separate to the MPT).

The idea of two portfolios was also recently endorsed by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize-winning behavioural economist, a “regret-proof” investment solution would involve having two portfolios: a risky portfolio and a safer portfolio.

Kahneman, discussed the idea of a “regret-proof policy” at a recent Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago.

 

The death of the Policy Portfolio was first raised by Peter Bernstein in 2003.

Reasons for the death of Policy Portfolio include that there is no such thing as a meaningful Policy Portfolio. Individual circumstances are different.

Furthermore, Investors should be dynamic, they need to react to changing market conditions and the likelihood of meeting their investment goals – a portfolio should not be held constant for a long period of time.

Therefore, institutional investors are moving toward more liability driven investment solutions, separating out the hedging of future liabilities and building another portfolio component that is return seeking.

The allocation between the two portfolios is seen as a dynamic process, which responds to the market environment and the changing likelihood of meeting investment goals.

 

Evolution of Wealth Management – the new Paradigm

These “institutional” investment approaches, liability driven investing, portfolio separation, and being more dynamic are finding their way into wealth management solutions.

Likewise, there is a growing acceptance the goal, as outlined above, is to focus on delivering income in retirement. Certainly a greater emphasis should be place on Retirement Income than previously.

Specifically, the goal is to meet with a high level of probability consumption goals in the first instance, and then aspirational goals, including healthcare, old age care and/or bequests.

Therefore, the investment solution should be designed to meet investment goals, as opposed to purely focusing on market risks as a whole, as is the case with the Policy Portfolio.

 

Goal-Based Investing

This new paradigm has led to Goal-Based investing (GBI) for individuals. Under GBI the focus is on meeting investor’s goals, much like liability-driven investing (LDI) is for institutional investors.

As explained by EDHEC Risk Goal-Based Investing involves:

  1. Disaggregation of investor preferences into a hierarchical list of goals, with a key distinction between essential and aspirational goals, and the mapping of these groups to hedging portfolios possessing corresponding risk characteristics (Liability Hedging Portfolio).
  2. On the other hand it involves an efficient dynamic allocation to these dedicated hedging portfolios and a common performance seeking portfolio.

 

GBI is consistent with two portfolio approach, fund separation, liability driven investing, and undertaking a dynamic investment approach.

The first portfolio is the Liability Hedging Portfolio to meet future income requirements, encompassing all essential goals.

The objective of this Portfolio is to secure with some certainty future income requirements. It is typically made up of longer dated high quality fixed income securities, including inflation linked securities.

The second portfolio is the Growth portfolio, or return seeking portfolio. This is used to attain aspirational goals, objectives above essential goals. It is also required if the investor needs to take on more risk to achieve their essential goals in retirement i.e. a younger investor would have a higher allocation to the Return Seeking Portfolio.

The Growth Portfolio would be exposed to a diversified array of risk exposures, including equities, developed and emerging markets, factor exposures, and unlisted assets e.g. unlisted infrastructure, direct property and Private Equity.

Allocations between Hedging Portfolio and the Growth Portfolio would depend on an individual’s circumstances e.g. how far away they are from reaching their desired standard of living in retirement.

This provides a fantastic framework for determining the level of risk to take in meeting essential goals and how much risk is involved in potentially attaining aspirational goals. It will lead to a more efficient use of invested capital and a better assessment of the investment risks involved.

Importantly, the framework will help facilitate a more meaningful dialogue between the investor and his/her Advisor. Discussions can be had on how the individual’s portfolios are tracking relative to their retirement goals and if there are any expected shortfalls. If there are expected shortfalls, the framework also helps in assessing what is the best course of action and trade-offs involved.

 

Industry Challenge

The Industry challenge, as so eloquently defined by EDHEC Risk, as a means to address the Pension Crisis as outlined at the beginning of this Post:

“investment managers must focus on the launch of meaningful mass-customized retirement solutions with a focus on generating replacement income in retirement, as opposed to keeping busy with launching financial products ill-suited to the problem at hand”

“……..The true challenge is indeed to find a way to provide a large number of individual investors with meaningful dedicated investment solutions.”

 

As expressed above, saving for retirement is an individual experience requiring much more tailoring of the investment solution than is commonly available now. Different investors have different goals.

Mass-production of Products, rather than Mass-Customisation of Investment Solutions, has been around for many years with the introduction of Unit Trusts/Mutual Funds, and more recently Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).

Mass-production, and MPT, down play the importance of customisation by assuming investment problems can be portrayed within a simple risk and return framework.

Although the Growth Portfolio would be the same for all investors, the Liability Hedge Portfolio requires a greater level of customisation, it needs to be more “custom-made”.

 

Conclusion

Encouragingly, the limitation of “one size fits all” approach has been known for some time. The investment techniques and approaches are available now to better customise investment solutions.

The challenge, is scalability, and the good news is advancements have been made in this area as well.

This is leading to changes within funds management organisations involving the greater use of technology and new and improved risk management techniques.  New skills sets have been developed.

The important point is that the knowledge is available now and it is expected that such investment solutions will be a growing presence on the investment landscape.

This will lead to better investment outcomes for many and have a very real social benefit.

 

The inspiration for this Post comes from EDHEC Risks short paper: Mass Customization versus Mass Production – How An Industrial Revolution is about to Take Place in Money Management and Why it Involves a Shift from Investment Products to Investment Solutions  (see: EDHEC-Whitepaper-JOIM)

A more technical review of these issues has also been undertaken by EDHEC.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Optimal Private Equity Allocation

TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Associations of America Endowment & Philanthropic Services) has published a paper offering insights into the optimal way of building an allocation to Private Equity (PE).

“Private equity is an important part of institutional portfolios. It provides attractive opportunities for long-term investors to harvest the illiquidity premium over time and extract the value created by hands-on private equity managers.”

 

Private equity is by its nature is illiquid. This in turn makes rebalancing a challenge. That is why a PE allocation that is too large endangers the entire portfolio, especially in times of crisis when secondary markets seize up.

 

According to recent analysis by Prequin, the popularity and growth of PE, and other alternative investments, is expected to continue.

Furthermore, recent Cambridge Associates analysis on those Endowments and Foundations with the better long-term performance records had “one thing in common: a minimum allocation of 15% to private investments.

 

We all know, a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns. Increasingly institutional investors are accepting that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. This has diminishing diversification benefits.

True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors, for which illiquidity is one factor.

In my mind, direct private investments, such as Private Equity, Direct Property, and Unlisted Infrastructure have a place in a genuinely diversified and robust Portfolio.

 

From this perspective, the TIAA paper is very useful as it considers how to build and maintain an allocation to PE within a well-diversified portfolio.  They assume building out the PE allocation over time to an equilibrium allocation.

The Paper provides valuable insights into the asset allocation process of what is a complicated asset to model given cash commitments (capital calls) are made overtime and there is uncertainty as to when invested capital will be returned (distributions). TIAA model for both of these variables, in a relatively conservative manner.

The TIAA Paper notes that investors have no control over the rate and timing of capital calls and distributions. Therefore, the paper focuses on two key variables Investors can control for: an annual commitment rate and the risk profile of the assets waiting to be invested in private equity assets i.e. where to invest the cash committed to PE but not yet called.

 

TIAA propose a robust process to determine an appropriate allocation to PE to ensure the allocation can be maintained and the benefits of PE are captured over time.

“Obtaining the benefits of an allocation to private equity, while also avoiding its inherent illiquidity pitfalls, can only occur through an effective, risk-based strategy for executing the build-out to the long-term equilibrium state.”

The goal of the paper is to develop a framework and a sound approach.

 

The results:

TIAA’s modelling suggests that a target allocation to private equity strategies in the range of 30% to 40% presents minimal liability and liquidity risks.

TIAA also suggest, that for long term investors, such as Endowments, capital awaiting investment in private equity should be invested in risk assets with higher expected returns, such as public equities (sharemarkets).

 

This level of allocation is probably high for most, and particularly KiwiSaver Funds.

Nevertheless, KiwiSaver Funds are underweight Private investments and Alternatives, particularly relative to the Superannuation industry in Australia.

Given the overall lack of allocation to private investments, including PE, Direct Property, and Unlisted Infrastructure, many KiwiSaver providers are most likely over estimating their liquidity needs to the detriment of investment performance over the longer term.

For those wanting a discussion on fees and alternatives, please see my previous post Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2.

 

TIAA Analysis

With regards to the TIAA paper, they develop a simple three asset portfolio of Fixed Income, Public equities, and Private equities. TIAA use sophisticated modelling techniques looking at a number of variables, including:

  1. the annual commitment rate; and
  2. Risk profile of the assets waiting to be invested in private equity.

The annual commitment is defined as the new commitment to private equity every year as a percentage of last year’s total portfolio value.

“An annual commitment rate results in a long-term equilibrium percentage of the portfolio in private equity assets, as well as the portfolio’s corresponding unfunded commitment level. The unfunded commitment level is important from a risk perspective as it represents a nominal liability to fund future capital calls, regardless of the prevailing market environment at the time of capital calls.”

TIAA note that at low rates of annual commitment the equilibrium rate of PE is about twice the unfunded ratio. Therefore, a 6% annual commitment rate will result in a base case unfunded ratio of around 15%, and a PE allocation of around 30% at equilibrium.

For those wanting a brief overview of the methodology, All About Alpha provides a great summary.

 

There is no doubt that Alternatives are, and will continue to be, a large allocation within more sophisticated investment portfolios globally.

As Prequin note in this report, investor’s motivation for investing in alternatives are quite distinctive:

    • Private equity and venture capital = high absolute and risk-adjusted returns
    • Infrastructure and real estate = an inflation hedge and reliable income stream
    • Private debt = high risk-adjusted returns and an income stream
    • Hedge Funds = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes
    • Natural Resources = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes

A well diversified and robust portfolio will be able to meet these motivations.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Changing the Conversation on Management Fees

Bloomberg report:

“BlackRock Inc. is tired of the conversation about costs. The world’s largest asset manager, which runs some of the cheapest investment products available, plans to place a greater focus on the quality of the engineering, construction and management of its funds going forward, …… “

“There’s too much emphasis purely on cost,” said Senra, ……….. “We don’t talk enough about quality. That’s not to say we’re not going to be competitive — we have to be competitive, this is a competitive industry — but I would move away from just a low-cost conversation.”

 

I agree, “too much emphasis purely on cost”, investment management fees, there should be a “greater focus on the quality of engineering, construction, and management”, and “we don’t talk enough about quality”.

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I think investment management fees are important.  I also think we should have a mature discussion about fees.  

The cheapest solution may not be the best, a race to bottom is not helpful.  And I’d say, not necessarily in the best interest of investors.

 

There are many reasons why you might consider paying more for something.  In an investing context this could be for greater levels of true portfolio diversification to manage portfolio volatility and return outcomes, for example the model followed by US Endowment Funds which has been very successful.

 

I appreciate BlackRock is making comment in relation to gaining access to certain areas of the market that they believe will deliver greater return outcomes overtime. 

 

I think this is an interesting issue when framed in the context of Responsible Investing.  Particularly in relation to quality of data, portfolio construction, and portfolio management.   From a more broader perspective, it also  helps highlight issues beyond just a headline investment management fee.

 

The evidence is compelling, Environmental, Governance and Social (ESG) investing can be a clear win for companies.  It can also be a clear winner for investors, yet it is not easy to capture this value.

For a start the ESG data is not consistent across providers.  At the company level this creates a diversity of opinion amongst providers.  Several studies have highlighted the contrasting conclusions of ESG data providers. (See this article on ESG Scoring, sourced over LinkedIn and published by RBC GAM.) 

Studies highlight the low level of correlation between ESG data.  This can result from different weighting systems that generate an ESG score and that there is a level of subjectivity in determining the materiality of ESG input.

 

Let’s consider this from a New Zealand perspective.

As the recent RIAA Benchmark Report  highlights:

“When primary and secondary RI strategies are taken into account, the dominant responsible investment strategy is negative screening, which represents 44% of AUM. Where ESG integration was nominated as the primary strategy, it was usually paired with either corporate engagement and shareholder action, or negative screening, as secondary strategies.”

Negative Screening is the dominant Sustainable Investing approach in New Zealand, to move beyond this will take an increasing level of resources and time.

There is a lot more to RI than negative screening.  The implementation of negative screening is not straight forward i.e. coming up with the investment philosophy, approach, and framework takes time and consideration, trading on the exclusion list is relatively straight forward.

 

As the RIAA Report covers, there are seven broad RI strategies as detailed by the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) and applied in the Global Sustainable Investment Review 2018, which maps the growth and size of the global responsible investment market.

The Broad RI strategies are:

  1. ESG integration
  2. Corporate engagement and shareholder action
  3. Negative/exclusionary screening
  4. Norms-based screening
  5. Positive/best-in-class screening
  6. Sustainability-themed investing
  7.  Impact investing and community investing

 

Best practice RI involves the full spectrum of these strategies, negative screening, ESG integration, Best-in-class and impact investing, at the very least.  This includes corporate governance and shareholder action.

 

So how do New Zealand’s leading investment managers compare to best practice.  The RIAA report makes the following comment in relation to New Zealand managers:

“There’s a growing number of investment managers applying leading practice ESG integration, but the overall number remains small. Of the 25 investment managers assessed, just eight (32%) are applying a leading approach to ESG integration (score >80%). That said, the number of leading ESG integration practitioners has risen from four last year, with some employing other responsible investment strategies as their primary strategy.”

 

It is great to see ongoing progress.

To implement leading ESG integration practices, let alone capture the full value of the ESG factors, takes time and resources.  Those managers making this commitment are to be commended.  It takes a lot of hard work.

The market leading managers are applying a wide range of sustainable investing approaches and resources.  This comes at a cost.

 

Therefore, some thought must be given to quality of RI outcomes being delivered and are they in line with best practice and is there continuous improvement in place.  Do they meet customers expectations?

 

Accordingly, I agree, let’s change the conversation about investment management fees, there are a lot of issues to consider other than investment management fees alone.

There is a lot to consider in delivering robust outcomes to investors.

Happy investing.

 Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Unscrambling the Sustainable Investing Return Puzzle

“The evidence is compelling: Sustainable investing can be a clear win for investors and for companies. However, many SRI fund managers, who have tended to use exclusionary screens, have historically struggled to capture this. We believe that ESG analysis should be built into the investment processes of every serious investor, and into the corporate strategy of every company that cares about shareholder value. ESG best-in-class focussed funds should be able to capture superior risk-adjusted return if well executed.”

This is the key finding of a Deutsche Bank Group (DB) report published in 2012, Sustainable Investing, Establishing Long-Term Value and Performance

The DB report looked at more than 100 academic studies of sustainable investing around the world, and then closely examined and categorized 56 research papers, as well as 2 literature reviews and 4 meta studies.

To the point, they comment “… most importantly, “Environmental, Social and Governance” (ESG) factors are correlated with superior risk-adjusted returns at the securities level…..”

DB were surprised by the clarity of results. Which are as follows:

  • 100% of academic studies agree that companies with high ratings for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and most importantly ESG factors have a lower cost of capital, for debt and equity. The market recognises them as having lower levels of risk.
  • 80% of studies show that companies with high ESG ratings exhibit market-based outperformance. The market is showing correlation between financial performance and what is perceived as the advantages of ESG strategies.
  • The single most important factor is Governance, Environment is next, closely followed by Social.

 

The study shows quite clearly that ESG factors matter at the security level, with consistent evidence of better financial performance.

The key for investors and fund managers is the ability to identify and capture these factors. This is a key issue as it comes down to the ESG scoring approach (whether active or index based) implemented, level and definition of portfolio exclusions.

It comes down to how ESG is integrated into the investment process.

 

Unscrambling Fund performance

A common perception is that Sustainable Investing is hard to define and provides mixed results – there is no really clear evidence it leads to a superior risk-adjusted return.

A key conclusion from DB is that “Sustainable investing has been too closely associated for too long with the performance of SRI Funds. These funds are not only an extremely broad category (i.e. in terms of investment mandate), but historically were based more exclusionary (or negative) – as opposed to positive best-in-class-screening.”

DB note that the Academic studies have not been aggregated and classified into appropriate categories, but have been mixed together, thus providing mixed results.

DB: “ By “unscrambling” them – as we do in this paper – a clearer picture emerges.”

 

“Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) in the academic literature have tended to rely on exclusionary screens – show SRI adds little upside, although it does not underperform either. Exclusion, in many senses, is essentially a value-based or ethical consideration for investors.”

With regards to the SRI Funds, the results are mixed, largely support they do not underperform, and there is no significant difference in performance.   Neutral to mixed results.

These results are limited to the review of SRI Funds only, they did not look at categories of ESG Funds.

 

DB found that ESG factors are correlated to superior performance at the security level, as highlighted above.

The real issue is how Managers are attempting to capture the superior performance from ESG factors at the security level in their portfolios.

Therefore, implementation and the approach taken to integrate ESG into the investment process is key in capturing the excess returns available from Sustainable investing as identified by the DB.

 

Increasingly, positive ESG investing, commonly referred to best-in-class, approach is being employed.

Best-in-class is an investment approach that focuses on companies that have historically performed better than their peers within a particular industry or sector on measures of environmental, social, and corporate governance issues. This typically involves positive or negative screening or portfolio tilting.

Best-in-class compares to exclusion, also called negative screening, where companies involved in certain “controversial” activities, such as tobacco or weapons are removed or excluded from an investor’s portfolio.

Best practice includes exclusions, ESG integration with a focus on best-in-class, and Impact investing, the full array of Sustainable Investing.

Crucially it requires an understanding of how to integrate ESG criteria in to the investment process, so as to capture the full value of the ESG factors.

 

Summary

DB note that the analysis on SRI performance goes a long way towards explaining why the concept of sustainable investing has taken so long to gain acceptance, it has been too closely associated for too long with the SRI fund manager results, which is a very broad category and has historically been based on exclusions, as opposed to a best-in-class screening.

They note that ESG investing, by contrast takes a best-in-class approach. DB have analysed the various categories within the universe of sustainable investing, they confidently say that the ESG approach, at an analytical level, works for investors and companies (in terms of lower cost of capital).

“It is now a question of ESG best-in-class funds capturing the available returns.” This is a key point.

So while Sustainable investing is the term use to refer to all form of investment, DB believe using ESG factors in a best-in-class approach is emerging as the key investment methodology. It is worth noting this was forecast in 2012 and is coming into fruition now.

DB note: “Investors should seek out investment managers who understand the ESG advantages and can leverage the information arbitrage that exists in the studies we examined. Sustainable Investing can pay dividends, but it requires managers who have internalised this information into their investment process and can also create appropriate strategies to help capture the upside that undoubtedly exists in this approach.”

Or put another way: “In effect, the conclusion is that there are superior risk-adjusted returns for investors, but managers need to take the right approach toward sustainable investing in order to capture these. For corporations, these are important results but the implication of lower cost of debt and equity capital must surely make this a key issue for any CFO, not just the CEO and Sustainability Officer.”

As an aside, this has implications in relation to the fee debate and manager selection. This will be covered in a future Post.

 

Another Comprehensive Study

A more recent study, ESG and financial Performance: aggregated evidence from more than 200 empirical studies, published in 2015 came up with similar conclusions.

They too found clear evidence in support of ESG investing. Their central conclusions was: “the orientation toward long term responsible investing should be important for all kinds of rational investors in order to fulfil their fiduciary duties and may better align investors’ interests with the broader objectives of society. This requires a detailed and profound understanding of how to integrate ESG criteria into investment processes in order to harvest the full potential of value-enhancing ESG factors……..”

As  mentioned, implementation is key. Therefore, when selecting an index provider or/and active manager, their integration of ESG factors into the investment process and strategy is very important, as also highlighted by the DB study.

The full conclusion of the 2015 study:

“Through a second-level review of 60 review studies – including both, vote-count studies and meta-analyses – on the ESG–CFP relation, we are able to combine more than 3700 study results from more than 2200 unique primary studies. Based on this sample, we clearly find evidence for the business case for ESG investing. This finding contrasts with the common perception among investors. The contrary perception of investors may be biased due to findings of portfolio studies, which exhibit, on average, a neutral/mixed ESG–CFP performance relation. It is important to be aware that the results of these (to date about 150 studies) are overlaid by various systematic and idiosyncratic risks in portfolios and, in the case of mutual funds, by implementation costs. Still more than 2100 other – in particular company-focused – empiric studies suggest a positive ESG relation. ESG outperformance opportunities exist in many areas of the market. In particular, we find that this holds true for North America, Emerging Markets, and in non-equity asset classes. Our results propose that capital markets so far demonstrate no consistent learning effects regarding the ESG–CFP relation: Since the mid-1990s, the positive correlation patterns in primary studies have been stable over time.

 Based on this exhaustive review effort, our main conclusion is: the orientation toward long-term responsible investing should be important for all kinds of rational investors in order to fulfil their fiduciary duties and may better align investors’ interests with the broader objectives of society. This requires a detailed and profound understanding of how to integrate ESG criteria into investment processes in order to harvest the full potential of value-enhancing ESG factors. A key area for future research is to better understand the interaction of different ESG criteria in portfolios and the relevance of specific ESG sub-criteria for CFP. These insights will shed further light on the ESG determinants for long-term positive performance impacts.”

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Could Buffett be wrong?

As has been widely reported Warren Buffett frequently comments on the benefits of investing in low-cost index funds.

He’s reportedly instructed the trustee of his estate to invest in index funds. “My advice to the trustee couldn’t be more simple: Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund,” he noted in the Berkshire Hathaway’s 2013 annual letter to shareholders.

 

Not that I want to disagree with Buffett, I have enormous respect for him, incorporate many of his investment insights and philosophies into my own investment approaches. Albeit, I think he might be wrong on this account.

And this is not to say Index Funds do not have a part to play in a portfolio, nor that investment fees are not important. They are. I do think more portfolios should be invested along the lines of Endowments. Broad diversification is the key.

 

Following Buffett could be the right advice for a young person starting out with many years until retirement.  Such an investor would need to weather the volatility of being largely invested in equities, which is no mean achievement when equity markets can suffer falls of over 40%. A high equity strategy can become horribly undone.

Nevertheless, as one gets closer to retirement and is in retirement Buffett’s strategy is unsuitable.

Similarly Buffett’s strategy is not appropriate for a Pension Fund or Endowment. These Funds are in a similar position to those in retirement. Meanwhile, the equity allocation should be reduced as one gets closer to retirement.

The short comings of a higher equity allocation was highlighted in a recent article  by Charles E.F. Millard, who is a consultant to AQR Capital Management, LLC.

 

Once an investor needs to take capital or income from a portfolio volatility of the equity markets can wreak havoc on a Portfolio’s value, and ultimately the ability of a portfolio to meet its investment objectives.

The key point that Millard makes is that Pension Funds and Endowments are required to make periodic payment obligations. So do those in retirement, they either draw capital or income from the portfolio to sustain a desired standard of living.

 

Ultimately, it the drawing of an income or the payments by Endowments that consume most of the investment returns. “This is why assets don’t just mushroom over time.”

As Millard explains, “each year endowments usually pay out at least 5% of their holdings, and the institutions they support tend to count on those funds. That changes the situation an awful lot.”

Let’s look at the math. Millard explains”

and assume that each year the endowment pays out 5% of its assets. In that case, starting at $1 million, the endowment would not have the $5.3 billion Buffett imagines. Rather, after having paid out almost $145 million along the way, the endowment would have less than $150 million remaining”

Still a great result, but far from the billions assumed by Buffett.

It is also worth noting that a Pension’s obligation (liability) can continue to grow as employees retire and live longer. The Pension Fund has no ability to reduce its payouts and must manage this risk.

 

This is where market volatility comes into play, particularly drawdowns – a large fall in the value of the market.

“In a prolonged stock market drawdown, those growing benefit payments will consume a larger share of the shrunken plan assets.  So, they can’t take too much solace in long-run optimism when in the intermediate run they’re already paying out much of their capital.”

 

This is a key point. You can’t take comfort in the long-term returns from equities when you are running out of money!

Equity markets do fall in value and this is why institutions with meaningful annual pay-out obligations are not invested only in equities.

 

No argument that equities will not outperform over the longer term, this is highly likely. Yet this observation fails to recognise the volatility inherent in equities.

Millard:

“Over Buffett’s 77 years investing, the endowment CIO would see fund assets decline in 23 out of 77 years (when equity returns didn’t cover the 5% distribution), and in the average bad year, the fund would shrink by -12%. But at least an endowment may be able to reduce its spending; a pension fund can’t, so in a bad year, the fraction of pension assets that must be paid out increases substantially. This is why most institutional investors subscribe to a concept that Buffett seems to hate – diversification. He’s said it’s “a protection against ignorance.” We think it is more a protection against hubris.”

Diversification is key.

“It is worth noting that Institutions do not seek to maximize potential long-term returns, without regard to risks. They often seek to maximize the likelihood that they can meet their payout obligations. They seek to be reliable payers of those obligations. And in the case of pensions, they also seek to make it possible for the employer to have somewhat predictable and affordable contribution obligations. A portfolio of stocks alone doesn’t do that. That’s why asset class diversification is a bedrock principle of modern investing.

 

In short, institutional investors have different goals and obligations to Buffett.

For those in retirement, their goals and obligations are more closely aligned with the Pension Fund and Endowment, than Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway. Those closer to retirement need to make sure that market volatility does not impact them and their ability to sustain the standard of level they wish to maintain in retirement.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.