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Ahold Delhaize Pensioen, the €4.6bn pension fund of the Dutch-Belgian supermarket chain, has said it would raise the risk exposure of its investments to improve the potential for inflation compensation.

In its annual report for 2018, it made clear that it had made the decision based on an asset-liability management study.

The adjustment comes in the wake of a disappointing investment year during which the pension fund incurred a 0.8% loss, leaving it unable to grant indexation for the fourth consecutive year.

The hoped-for recovery didn’t materialise, and the scheme closed the year with a funding of 109.6%.

As part of its new investment policy, Ahold Delhaize Pensioen said it would raise its strategic securities allocation from 44% to 50%, while reducing its fixed income holdings from 56% to 50%.

Renate Pijst, the scheme’s director, said that increasing the risk exposure while the market seemed to be at its peak had been a deliberate decision.

“Doing nothing would mean that it would be difficult to escape the current situation in which we can’t compensate for inflation,” she explained.

The pension fund also abandoned its tactical investment policy with a bandwidth of 10%, replacing it with a strategic approach with a margin of no more than 2.5%.

At year-end, the scheme’s actual securities allocation was 37%, which was already relatively low, according to Pijst.

“However, under the rules of our old dynamic investment policy, we would have to reduce our holdings to 35%,” she added.

The Ahold Delhaize scheme indicated it wanted to limit its dynamic investment policy to situations where the pension fund had “very high or very low” funding.

Currency hedging, passive shift, ESG

The pension fund further said it would halve its current full currency hedge of the US dollar and sterling, and that it would raise its dynamic interest hedge from 57% to 60% of its liabilities.

The changes are scheduled to be fully implemented at the end of this year.

The retailer’s pension fund said that the adjustments came in part as a consequence of comments made by supervisor De Nederlandsche Bank after an asset management survey the regulator had carried out.

Based on the outcome, the Ahold Delhaize scheme had also ceased its temporary hedge of the Swiss franc and US interest rates, it said.

The annual report also revealed that the pension fund wants to continue focusing on passive investments.

At the start of 2019, it had completed the conversion of its emerging markets equity stake into fully passive holdings.

Last year, the pension fund lost 7.8% on equity, 0.3% on high yield bonds and 2.1% on emerging market debt.

Investments in euro-denominated government bonds and credit generated 1.7% and 0.9%, respectively, while residential mortgages delivered 2%.

With a return of 18.6%, alternative investments were the best-returning asset class.

The scheme announced that it would consult its stakeholders about formulating its policy on environmental, social and corporate governance matters, and that it would explore the investment opportunities linked to climate change.

 

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