This content is from: Portfolio

U.K. Pensions Pare Equity Exposure

Pension schemes are allocating more assets to bonds and alternatives.

  • Joe McGrath

For the fourth straight year, pension schemes at Britain’s blue-chip and mid-cap companies have cut equities exposure for employees that are invested in the asset class by default. They’re favoring government bonds, credit and index-linked bonds instead.

Research published Thursday by U.K. fund group Schroders found FTSE 350 companies’ pension plans increased asset allocation to fixed-income by 5.3 percentage points to 20.8 percent in March, from 15.5 percent a year earlier. Assets invested in global and U.K. developed market equities dropped by 4.8 percentage points to 61.9 percent from 66.7 percent over the same period.

The British government’s Department for Work & Pensions has been meeting with asset managers as part of an ongoing review to better understand how the U.K. company pensions can be improved. British companies with more than 250 of staff have been obliged to automatically enroll employees into retirement savings plans since 2012, with smaller firms subject to the same obligation over time.

“At the moment, you pay into a fund and you keep your fingers crossed that there is going to be enough in the pot for when you get there,” said Euan MacLaren, managing director and head of U.K. and Ireland institutional business at Natixis Asset Management. “The worker, the corporate and the investment industry have to engage.”

The U.K. has 7.78 million members of defined contribution pension trusts as at the end of April 2017, according to the latest data from The Pensions Regulator.

Among FTSE companies, asset allocation to fixed-income has grown the most over the past four years, rising 11.6 percentage points since March 2013, according to the Schroders report. Allocations to alternatives – including commodities, hedge funds, real estate, absolute return funds – rose to 13.1 percent in March, from 7 percent four years earlier. Global Equities exposure fell to 39.8 percent from 46.2 percent over the same period, while UK equities tumbled to 22.1 percent from 32.7 percent.

Stephen Bowles, head of U.K. Institutional Defined Contribution (DC), at Schroders, said “the rise in fixed income allocations in the DC space is we believe part of the broader move towards more diversified portfolios that the report has identified over the past four years.”