Saturday, July 28, 2007

Global upward trend in profit share

The BIS has an interesting working paper #231 on The global upward trend in the profit share. The paper addresses the rising share of value added going to capital rather than labour, a trend which is in evidence since the mid-1980s. The authors claim that this is not a cyclical development (unless you take Kondratiev-cycles into consideration, which they do not), but a fundamental shift explained by faster technological obsolesence of capital goods. The implications of this assessment are far reaching, not least with regards to the sustainability of equity valuations.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Pensions in Central & Eastern Europe

Allianz Global Investors has published a 96-pages comprehensive report about the pension systems and markets in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Slovakia with individual country profiles. This report is very useful due to the changing landscape in that region of the continent, combined with the unconventional pillar terminology utilised.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Discriminatory dividend taxation

The EU Commission has sent letters of formal notice to Italy and Finland about their rules under which dividends paid to foreign pension funds may be taxed more heavily than dividends paid to domestic pension funds. Italy and Finland are asked to reply within two months. These letters constitute the first step of the infringement procedure of Article 226 of the EC Treaty. Similar letters have been sent to the Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden on 7 May.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


For those happy few of our readers with only a cursory interest in pensions accounting, KPMG's IFRS Briefing Sheet summarising IFRIC 14 on IAS 19 might just do the job.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

UK pensions to become mandatory?

In the first ever Summer Statement outlining the formal Gracious address which in turn contains the legislative programme of HM Government, Gordon Brown said the following:
The new Pensions Bill will ensure that for the first time not just some but all working people have the right to a workplace pension with a duty on every employer to contribute towards it.

We can only interpret this to mean that occupational pensions will go from contingent to mandatory for everyone in the UK. The implications of this change for the European first and second pillar classification, which critically relies on the non-mandatory nature of occupational pensions in contradistinction to social security, may be huge. This criterion, which is dispensable in our view, would be a major technical impediment to the eventual application of the Pensions Directive to Switzerland with its mandatory occupational pensions system.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Actuaries hedging

Pension liabilities heavily depend on forecasts of the mortality of the pension plan beneficiaries. These forecasts are produced by actuaries. Until quite recently, the actuarial science was deemed to be capable of coming up with a reliable point estimate (if you can speak of point estimates in the context of large cohort mortality tables) of future mortalities. This expectation does not survive under closer scrutiny of course. That is not a bad thing, because point forecasts of the future are necessarily inaccurate, therefore such expectations were never realistic.

The British actuarial profession is leading the pack again with its publication of a draft library of mortality projections, indicating that it may be reasonable to utilise a number of scenarios in mortality projections. But more closely to home, and indicative of imminent changes to current mortality assumptions and thus liability valuations, they warn that currently employed mortality tables may considerably underestimate improvements in future mortality. We understand this to imply that more realistic tables will assume higher average life expectancies and, consequently, higher pension liabilities.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lifetime financial advice

The Research Foundation of the CFA Institute has issued a new monograph on Lifetime Financial Advice - Human Capital, Asset Allocation and Insurance by four distinguished authors: Roger G. Ibbotson, Moshe A. Milevsky, Peng Chen CFA and Kevin X. Zhu. For a summary, let me quote from the foreword:
The largest asset that most human beings have, at least when they are young, is their human capital— that is, the present value of their expected future labor income. Human capital interacts with traditional investments, such as stocks, bonds, and real estate, through the correlation structure. But human capital interacts in even more interesting and profitable ways with life insurance and annuities because these assets have payoffs linked to the holder’s longevity. The authors of Lifetime Financial Advice present a framework for understanding and managing all of these assets holistically.

This complex issue is approached in a systematic, model based fashion from the perspective of the individual investor. It may not, therefore, hold as much interest to the traditional institutional investor managing retirement monies collectively. Private wealth & insurance product managers should be able to find plenty of food for thought, though. But not only them: this short monograph should be essential reading for everyone who needs to be financially literate.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mapping standards

Another interesting report from KPMG UK! This one creates a list of accounting items and maps those to the appropriate standards in IFRS and US GAAP, respectively. A 144-page "overview" is available for free download. However, it may soon be obsolete if the SEC permits US corporations to report using IFRS ...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

DNB on pensions

In a recent speech, the president of the Dutch central bank has presented a concise and well structured comparison between US and Dutch occupational pensions. He particularly focused on the benefits of a legal separation between sponsor and pension fund as well as on the advantages of professional asset management which is supported by the more collective approach in the Dutch system.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

New interpretations for IAS 19

IFRIC, the International Financial Reporting Interpretations Committee has issued an important interpretation of the limit on an asset recognised in the surplus of a defined benefit plan under IAS 19. Especially the treatment in the presence of minimum funding requirements is of interest in the European context. IFRIC 14 is only available to eIFRS subscribers, but its draft is openly available.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Mediation mechanism for supervisors

CEIOPS invites comments on its Consultation paper to establish a non-binding mediation mechanism available to supervisory authorities under the directives within the Committee's purview. The mechanism is proposed to work with an accept or explain approach, thus forstering transparency. However, the issue that might be considered to be most in need of mediation (i.e. different funding requirements in Belgium and the Netherlands) appears not to fall within the scope of the mechanism.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

ECJ deals first blow

In an important decision in case C-522/04 Commission vs. Belgium, the Court's second chamber has found, among other things, that Belgian tax provisions effectively taxing retirement capital to be transferred to an IORP resident outside of Belgium to be in breach of several Treaty freedoms (recital 40) and therefore inadmissible (IPE).

This is the first decision dealing with an issue that is critically important to the establishment of cross-border pensions, and its favourable, albeit unsurprising outcome virtually removes yet another area of legal uncertainty. It is interesting to note that the Court evaluates the equivalent applicability of its reasoning to the EEA, which it confirms.