Ontario Regulator Issues Draft of New Guidelines for Pensions Funds Investing in Derivatives

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The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), the regulatory body that oversees the province’s pension systems, has issued a draft of new guidelines for pensions investing in derivatives.

The guidelines call for “more precise and frequent” risk monitoring and increased documentation.

FSCO drafted the guidelines after “perceived concerns about the lack of understanding of the risks associated with investments in derivatives”, according to Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, one of Canada’s largest business law firms.

Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP summarized the guidelines:

FSCO’s Note is framed as a set of expectations of those investing in derivatives and is intended to serve as a starting point for plan administrators. It contemplates a system for internal oversight of derivatives practices that is extremely broad in scope and will increase the costs to pension plans that invest directly in derivatives or that invest in pooled funds that use derivatives. The suggestion in the Note is that prudence might require more, but not less, rigorous practices.

FSCO’s Note sets out explicit expectations for documentation, risk mitigation and risk monitoring as follows:

Documentation is expected to include more robust authorization regarding derivatives investment and collateral use in the Statement of Investment Policies and Procedures (SIPP) and to include risk monitoring practices (RMP) policies or guidelines relating to derivatives investments.

Risk mitigation strategies for over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives should include an evaluation of pricing and other terms and conditions to ensure they are appropriate, and standardized netting agreements. Administrators should also consider appropriate collateral requirements for all derivatives, impose “specific and unambiguous” quantitative limits on a fund’s exposure to derivatives (including “soft limits, where positions must be analyzed, and hard limits, where positions must be liquidated”), and ensure compensation for staff involved in derivatives activities is set to avoid undue risk-taking.

Risk monitoring for derivatives is expected to be more precise and frequent than for other investments, including monitoring of market risk, liquidity risk, counterparty risk, basis risk and operations and systems risk. Scenario analysis and stress testing are expected to be carried out.

A notable aspect of FSCO’s expectations regarding risk management and monitoring is the setting of a 10% limit on exposure to derivatives transactions with the same counterparty or associated counterparties. This is similar to the 10% diversification rule for investments under Schedule III to the Pension Benefits Standards Regulations, 1985, which is adopted in Ontario. FSCO’s expectation is that prudence may require a limit lower than 10% to be set. Such a rule would require new levels of monitoring of OTC derivative and repo contracts to ensure that they do not exceed this limit (or such other lower limit as is set by the administrator).

Read the draft of the guidelines here.

The FSCO is seeking public comment on the draft until November 24.

Few Details On New York Pension’s Partnership With Goldman Sachs As Comptroller Remains Quiet

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New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the sole trustee of the states $181 billion Common Retirement Fund (CRF), announced last month a partnership between the pension fund and Goldman Sachs.

CRF will give Goldman $2 billion to invest in global equities. But few other details have emerged about the partnership. That led one think tank, the Pioneer Institute, to push for more clarity. But the Comptroller’s office has remained mum on specifics. From Public Sector Inc:

The lack of transparency in portfolio management and the conspicuous absence of a board of trustees overseeing the investment process is troubling, if not perilous.

Matthew Sweeney, a spokesman for the comptroller’s office, answered some of a dozen questions about the GSAM deal. Here are a few of those he did not comment on, completely unedited:

– Which other investment management firms applied to the competitive bidding for the $2 billion allocation?

– What were the specific criteria on the basis of which GSAM was selected?

– Can you share the investment policy sheet that was publicized as part of the RfP for this portfolio segment? This would include targets like concentration risk and counterparty risk limits as well as a number of other parameters related to the asset classes included, long/short ratios, other risk metrics, geographies and other relevant characteristics of the desired portfolio.

– What are the performance targets in terms of risk and return for the performance-based compensation, if any?

– What are the benchmarks selected to evaluate the performance of this portfolio sleeve in the coming years?

Mr Sweeney did answer a question regarding the compensation structure in the contract – with the laconic: “Fees are disclosed on an annual basis.”

[…]

With so much pension money at stake, why didn’t Mr DiNapoli’s office publicize the selection process, a clear rationale for the investment and the performance objectives he has (or so one hopes) for Goldman? What value are Goldman’s undoubtedly well-compensated analysts and investment bankers supposed to add?

The so-called partnership “will initially focus on dynamic manager selection opportunities in global equities to enhance returns” and then provide “improved analytics and reporting on its portfolio and enhanced evaluation and due diligence on current and potential active managers.” In other words, the CRF added a potentially expensive actively managed distraction for its global investment team days before CalPERS announced ditching its $4 billion hedge-fund allocation precisely because it was too small to make a dent in overall return and too expensive in terms of time and money to manage.

The bottom line is that, because of their sheer size, most pension funds can do little but focus on efficient cost and risk management. An open and competitive bidding process is essential to keeping costs down. And a critical part of risk management is having a robust, transparent and accountable ­investment process, which the CRF appears to be patently lacking. One need not look far afield to see where this sort of conduct ultimately leads.

The Common Retirement Fund paid $575 million in management fees in fiscal year 2013-14. The fund manages $181 million in assets.

You can read more coverage of the Goldman Sachs deal here and here.

Funded Status Of Canadian Pensions Falls in Third Quarter

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The funded statuses of Canada’s defined benefit plans collectively fell in the third quarter to 91.1 percent, marking a 4.9 percent decline over the last three months; at the end of the second quarter, plans were 96 percent funded.

The data comes from Aon Hewitt, who surveyed 275 of Canada’s defined benefit plans, both public and private.

From MarketWired:

[The DB plans’] median solvency funded ratio — the market value of plan assets over plan liabilities — stood at 91.1% at September 26, 2014. That represents a decline of 4.9 percentage points over the previous quarter ended June 30, 2014, a 5.5% drop from the peak of 96.6% reached in April 2014, and a 3.1% increase over the same quarter in 2013. With the decline, this quarter’s survey results reverse a trend throughout 2013 and 2014 of improving solvency positions for the surveyed plans. As well, approximately 23% of the surveyed plans in Q3 were more than fully funded at the end of the third quarter this year, compared with 37% in the previous quarter and 15% in Q3 2013.

[…]

“Canadian DB plans have strung together a nice run of winning quarters, but as we have been saying for some time now, market volatility continues to present significant risks and plan sponsors should be implementing or fine-tuning their de-risking strategies in order to stay current and optimized in the face of ever-changing capital market conditions,” said William da Silva, Senior Partner, Retirement Practice, Aon Hewitt.

“Now that we have seen plan solvency decline for the first time in over a year and a half, hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call to all plan sponsors to consider their funding and investment strategies with risk management as their key objective. Overall Canadian plan solvency is still relatively strong compared to where things stood just a few years ago, so there is still time to act. But with new mortality tables coming into effect, we expect material increases in liabilities for many plans. Clearly, that is another signal that the time to act is now.”

The 4.9 percent drop in funding was the first funding decline in nine quarters, or over two years.