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Dutch pharmacists' scheme attributes 0.7% loss to defensive strategy

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SPOA, the €1.2bn pension fund for public pharmacists in the Netherlands, lost 0.7% on its investments in 2013 due to what it described as its defensive investment mix. 

As a consequence, its return fell 5.4 percentage points short of Dutch pension funds’ average return, as estimated by supervisor De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB).

It said it lost 8% on its fixed income holdings – currently 61% – due to rising interest rates last year.

A return of almost 16.5% on the scheme’s equity portfolio could not offset the negative return on fixed income, it said.

At the end of 2012, SPOA had a 23% stake in equity. Its holdings in property and alternatives were 7% and 6%, respectively, at the time.

In a clarification on SPOA’s website, the board said it could not change its investment policy, arguing that the DNB would shoot down a more risky investment policy given the scheme’s financial position.

At February-end, SPOA’s coverage ratio was 107.9%, including a required rights discount of 4.6% for this year.

In 2012 and13, the pharmacists scheme had already to cut pension rights by 7% and 6.8% respectively.

SPOA chairman Mark Hagenzieker told IPE that the pension fund does not want to drastically change its investment policy either.

“We have always invested conservatively,” he said, adding that a recent asset-liability management study has made clear that the current investment mix is the best for the pension fund. However, Hagenzieker declined to provide details about the current portfolio.

SPOA has always prioritised pensions’ accrual to accruing financial buffers. As a consequence, the scheme suffered badly during the financial crisis, with its coverage reaching an absolute low of 84.1% in 2011.

The board of the pharmacists scheme further made clear that it is looking into the options of cost reduction. It said that the pension contribution of its participants is based on a cost level of 0.5%, but that it had found that the real costs were 1.5% during 2013.

SPOA has approximately 2,745 active participants, 960 deferred members and 1,130 pensioners.

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