Monday, June 15, 2009

Impact of accounting and prudential regulation on pensions

"A long-term view involves short-term risk, whereas a short-sighted strategy involves increased risk over the long term."

EDHEC just released its impressive report Impact of Regulation on the ALM of European Pension Funds. Even though we disagree in some instances, we think this is mandatory reading for anyone in the pensions investment space because it highlights those areas of regulation which will be of increasing consequence for pension funds' investment strategies in the near future, as we have continued to stress over the recent past.

At the core of the report is the development of an asset allocation model in the presence of liability constraints. The solution involves the components cash, risky assets and the liability hedging portfolio. The state of the art model takes inflation and longevity risk management into account as well.

There is not enough space nor time for an in-depth review of this valuable piece. Nevertheless, I would like to mention two issues that have slightly moderated my enthusiasm for the report:
  • There seem to be a few at least implicit factual inaccuracies in the parts describing the regulatory environment. The most glaring of which may be the assumption that the EU pensions directive is applicable in Switzerland - it is not.
  • Accounting standards seem to be understood to effectively determine investment action. While it is not unheard of that managements structure transactions in such ways as to optimise their reporting, this clearly goes one step too far. We are well aware of the interdependence between perception (qua accounting standards) and (economic) reality, but at least in an academic report, the latter needs to retain some vestige of predominance over the former. Remember: pension funds' long-term time horizon, as accounting standards can and do change.

No comments: