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Finland’s earnings-related pension returns barely positive in first half

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Investment returns generated by Finland’s earnings-related pension funds in the first half of this year were just above zero, thanks to a positive second quarter, according to Finnish pensions alliance TELA.

But near-zero returns for the world’s largest pension funds last year reveal the difficulties in the global investment environment, the organisation said.

TELA published data showing that the investment return on Finnish earnings-related pension assets was 0.3% in nominal terms in the first six months of the year.

Despite the positive return trend in the second quarter, “modest returns” in the first quarter means the figures for the first half were only slightly positive, it said in the statistical analysis.

Earnings-related pension assets totalled about €180.3bn at the end of June, lower than the level reported for the same point last year of €182.9bn, even though TELA said the value of the assets had risen by €2.4bn during the second quarter of this year.

TELA analyst Peter Halonen said the situation on the financial markets improved slightly during the second quarter, as central banks continued monetary policy measures to stimulate the economy and reasonably good financial figures were published – in the US and China, for example.

“On the other hand,” he said, “the stimulating monetary policy and the resulting low interest rates have kept the investment environment challenging, especially for fixed income investments.

“Brexit, in turn, hit equities particularly hard during the second quarter and has increased both economic and political uncertainty.”

Returns on earnings-related pension assets in Finland in 2015, however, beat returns produced by big pension funds in other countries, TELA said.

But it warned that these weak investment results by the big funds indicated how tough the environment was.

Halonen said: “Last year, the returns of the world’s largest pension funds – for instance, in Japan, Norway, the Netherlands and the US – were around zero.

“This reflects the difficulties in the global market situation; we operate in the same investment environment.”

However, he added that Finnish pension insurers were constantly striving to seek new, profitable investments.

“For as long as the return on investments exceeds the growth rate of the wages and salaries sum in the long term, it pays to invest pension assets and to cover some pensions with the returns yielded by the investments,” Halonen said.

At the end of June, the proportion of earnings-related pension assets invested in equities and equity-like instruments stood at around 46.3%, or €83.6bn in absolute terms, down from 46.3% at the end of June 2015.

Fixed income investments accounted for about €81.9bn, or 45.4%, up from 42.7% at the same point last year, while real estate investments totalled €14.9bn, equating to an 8.3% overall allocation, down from 9.4% 12 months earlier.

TELA’s analysis takes in data on the investment of statutory earnings-related pension assets made by pension insurance companies, industry-wide pension funds, company pension funds, the pension liability fund for the employees of the Social Insurance Institution, Keva, the Central Church Fund, the Farmers’ Social Insurance Institution, the Seafarer’s Pension Fund (MEK), the Pension Institution of the Bank of Finland and the State Pension Fund (VER).

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