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Varma rebounds from first-half loss as market settles after Brexit

Varma, the €42.8bn Finnish pensions insurance company, saw its investment returns bounce back in the third quarter, bringing the year-to-date return to 3.1% by the end of September after posting a loss of 0.3% at the half-year stage.

Risto Murto, Varma’s chief executive, said: “By the end of September, Varma’s investment returns had made a clear recovery from the post-Brexit market shock.”

The 3.1% return compares with the 1.1% return produced for the same period last year.

Unlisted equity investments and private equity funds generated the highest returns in the period between January and September, Varma said, adding that, in a zero-interest environment, fixed income investments had also produced very good returns.

Unlisted equities generated a 15.4% return in the nine-month period, up from 9% in the same period last year, and private equity produced 8.1%, just under the 9% reported for the comparable year-earlier period.

The pensions provider said it made good returns from fixed income investments thanks to falling interest-rate levels and lighter credit-risk pricing, with the asset class returning 4.2%, up from a 0.2% loss.

Real estate, meanwhile, ended September with a year-to-date loss of 0.4%, down from the 2.3% positive return in the year-earlier period.

Property investments were hit by write-downs made in response to renovations and changes in the market situation.

Varma’s total assets grew to €42.8bn at the end of September from €40.8bn 12 months before.

Its solvency capital increased to €10.1bn from €9.5bn, and the solvency ratio stood at 31% at the end of the reporting period, up slightly from 30.6% at the same point in 2015.

Murto warned that low interest rates would be particularly challenging if they continued for long.

He said investment returns had been at a good level since the financial crisis, although the investment environment had been “highly exceptional” in this period, notably in terms of interest rates. 

“It is especially important to note that zero interest rates have not yet had a negative effect on pension investors’ returns,” he said.

“If the interest-rate level remains at zero for a long time, however, achieving good returns on accrued pension assets will be a major challenge.”

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