GERMANY - Germany’s Commerzbank is in the midst of selling a majority stake in Pensor Pensionsfonds, an equity-oriented pension vehicle created by the Riester reforms of 2001, due to dissatisfaction with the fund’s performance so far, IPE has learned. (Updates with extra comment)

Sources familiar with Commerzbank’s plans said the bank’s board had decided to sell the majority stake in Pensor as it was unhappy about its business development and the co-operation with Höfer.

However, other reliable sources cautioned that the situation was “still in flux”, adding that there could be no suggestion that the co-operation between Commerzbank and Höfer had not gone well.

Launched in April 2002, Pensor is a joint venture between Commerzbank, which owns just over 50%, and Höfer Vorsorgemanagement, a German pensions consultant which owns the rest.

Pensor has accumulated pension assets of around €20m, which is far below its original expectations.

The sources added that several options were being explored, including possibly Höfer buying out Commerzbank’s stake.

Anette Klages, spokeswoman for Cominvest, Commerzbank’s asset management arm, declined to comment. Reinhold Höfer, chief executive of Höfer Vorsorgemanagement, could not be reached for comment.

Unlike other Pensionsfonds, which serve specific companies or industries, Pensor’s strategy was to target German small-to-mid-size enterprise (SME) sector.

However, it has fallen far short of its business targets. Several months after its launch, Pensor put its potential client base at between 4,000 and 5,000 SMEs. It added that pension assets could reach €80-200m.

Pensor’s poor performance is not unique and all Pensionsfonds have underperformed since their creation. This is ascribed to the competitive disadvantages that they have faced compared with other vehicles like Pensionskassen, and a lack of enthusiasm among Germans for equity investing since the bear markets of 2000-2002.

The government is considering further strengthening the competitiveness of Pensionsfonds by allowing them to easier access to the €215bn in pension assets held by the Direktzusage, or book reserves. It is expected to do this as part of its transposition of the EU pension fund directive in September.