Thursday, 19 September 2013

Evolution beyond traditional investment principles at pension fund CalPERS

The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS, 6th largest pension fund in the world, a lot bigger than Canada's national CPPIB), new guiding investment beliefs, includes some thought-provoking elements:
  • Liabilities must influence the asset structure - CalPERS has a large and growing cash requirement and inflation-sensitive liabilities; assets that generate cash and hedge inflation should be an important part of the CalPERS investment strategy
  • CalPERS is willing to be activist, preferably by direct engagement, where it can make a material difference to portfolio return or risk (like governance especially, plus social and environmental factors that affect long-term sustainability) and where it has a chance of success
  • Strategic asset allocation is the dominant determinant of portfolio risk and return ... but Risk to CalPERS is multi-faceted and not fully captured by volatility or tracking error e.g. climate change and natural resource availability are considered long term risk factors; the path of returns matters
  • Costs matter and need to be effectively managed, including alignment of compensation between fund interests and those of staff or external managers
These principles would seem pertinent, partly for my own retirement investing. But they also would apply, I believe, to assessing the characteristics of proposed pension reform options in Canada - which of PRPPs, DC pension funds, CPPIB conforms best?

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