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Creating growth now Finnish government's biggest challenge – Varma

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Finland’s biggest pensions insurer Varma reported an investment return of 1.1% in the year to September, down from the 4.3% posted at the half-year stage and lower than the 6.1% generated for the same period last year.

In reporting interim figures, Varma said that, although pension assets yielded good returns since the financial crisis and were at a record high, the main challenges in Finland now were growth and jobs, and that these were also essential for the pension system.

Risto Murto, president and chief executive of the pensions insurer, said: “The government faces the challenge of balancing the public economy while creating conditions for growth.”

Of these two problems, bringing the public economy into balance will be the easier, he said.

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“The greater challenge will be creating growth in a situation where the current decade is in a danger of becoming clearly the weakest in terms of growth since post-World War II economic history,” he said.

Murto said that, in the third quarter, returns in the equity markets in particular had been negative.

Although this has weakened Varma’s equity return for January to September, it is nevertheless still positive at 1.3%, compared with 7.5% in the same period last year, he said. 

Reima Rytsölä, Varma’s CIO and deputy chief executive, predicted the market would continue to be volatile, with repetitions in future of the kind of weaker quarter that July to September proved to be.

But Varma’s level of solvency allow it to take risks, he said.

“In a very loose monetary policy environment, higher equity risk pays off in the longer term, although in the short perspective it may undermine returns,” he said.

Varma said effective diversification across hedge funds, real estate and unlisted securities helped offset the risks that resulted from falling equity prices.

In the nine-month period, internationally diversified real estate investment funds    generated the strongest returns, producing 10.2% compared with 9.5% in the same period last year, followed by private equity investments, which returned 9.1%, down from 11.8%.

Hedge funds returned 3.6%, down from 8% in the first nine months of 2014.

Varma’s total investment assets stood at €40.4bn at the end of September, up from €39.9bn at the end of September 2014.

Solvency weakened during the third quarter, but Varma said it remained at a high level.

Solvency capital fell to €9.51bn at the end of September from €10.4bn the same time last year, dropping to 30.6% of technical provisions from 35%.

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