Top five Dutch schemes ride equity rally to boost funding levels
The policy funding ratios of the Dutch pension schemes for metal workers PMT and PME have risen above 100% for the first time in years.
Other large pension funds in the Netherlands also reported a boost to their policy funding ratios, mainly due to rising equity markets.
The policy funding ratio is the 12-month average funding level upon which Dutch pension funds must base their policy decisions – in particular whether they can grant inflation-linked uplifts.
Healthcare sector scheme PFZW was the only one of the Netherlands’ top five with a policy funding ratio below 100%, recording 98.6% at the end of December.
The latest figures became evident as industry schemes PFZW, ABP (civil service), PMT, PME (both metal) and BpfBouw (construction) published their annual and quarterly reports.
Not only did the funds generally benefit from higher share prices, they also benefited from interest rates rising. Although the interest rate fell slightly in the last quarter of 2017, the discount rate for liabilities rose from 1.3% to 1.5%.
Despite the boost to funding levels, only BpfBouw was able to increase its pensions for this year, as its funding level was above the required 110%. The scheme decided to index pensions by 0.59%. The other funds are damping expectations when it comes to indexing or averting cuts.
“In all likelihood we will not be able to increase pensions much, if at all, in the coming five years,” ABP chair Corien Wortmann wrote in a press statement.
“At the end of 2019 our scheme’s policy funding ratio has to reach at least 104.3%,” PME chairman Eric Uijen said. “We are not there yet. For this reason we cannot rule out pension reductions in 2020.”
PFZW also warned of possible cuts if their policy funding ratio remained below 104.2% until the end of 2020.
The differences in investment returns appeared to be large, with the lowest return almost half the amount of the reported highest return.
With a 4.1% return PMT achieved the lowest result. ABP saw its assets grow by 7.6%. Interest rate and currency hedges have been included in these figures.
The civil service scheme – the largest pension fund in Europe – showed the biggest increase in its policy funding ratio. It rose by almost 10 percentage points to 101.5%, mainly due to the returns on shares and real estate. Its total assets were worth €409bn at the end of 2017.
The healthcare workers fund booked a return of 5.1%. PFZW suffered losses on its insurance portfolio (-13.3%) due to the severe hurricanes hitting the US last year. The scheme also had to write off millions on structured loans, following an adjustment of the valuation model.
BpfBouw’s assets increased by €3bn due to a return of 6.4%. Equities accounted for 10.9% and real estate for 9.9%. BpfBouw invests a relatively large portion of its capital (17%) in real estate. The scheme lost 1.2% on its interest rate hedge.
PME recorded a return of 4.7%. The scheme achieved a 15.3% return on shares, and 7.3% on real state. The matching portfolio, which accounts for almost half PME’s assets, lost 2.8% of its value.
PMT showed an outcome comparable to that of PME, although this pension fund achieved somewhat lower returns on equity and real estate. On the other hand, the losses on its matching portfolio were as high as PME’s, resulting in a lower return overall (4.1%).