AP1, one of the four main national pension funds backing Sweden’s state pension, is winding down the shorter of its absolute return targets in response to the slimmer market returns that are now available.

The Stockholm-based buffer fund, which had SEK352bn (€33.4bn) under management at the end of June 2019, revealed just after Christmas that its board decided in August to lower the fund’s return target on its total portfolio after costs to a real 3% a year when measured over rolling 10-year periods.

The new target is one percentage point below the previous goal and applies from the beginning of this year.

However, the board also decided to stick with the long-term return target – which is measured over rolling 40-year periods – of 4% in real terms.

Teresa Isele, AP1’s acting CEO, said: “As a consequence of the First AP Fund’s assessment of lower expected market returns in the future, the board of directors of the fund has decided to lower the medium-term return target after costs by one percentage point.”

The background to the change was the extremely low interest rate level, she said, but also lower growth expectations over the next few years.

“It is our view that after an initial low-return environment, normalisation usually takes place where a real return of just over 4% should again be possible to achieve, which means that we would achieve our long-term return target.”

The step taken by AP1’s board mirrors the move made by fellow buffer fund AP4 two years ago, soon after Niklas Ekvall joined the fund as CEO.

In its 2017 report, AP4 said it was revising its 40-year target down to a real 4% on an annualised basis from 4.5 %, and complementing that long-term goal with a medium-term 10-year target of an average 3% annualised real return because of the low returns expected over the following 10 years.

Meanwhile, in AP3’s 2018 annual report, the fund’s CEO Kersten Hessius noted that since the pension fund’s real return target was set in 2004, US 20-year real interest rates had fallen by a percentage point from over 2%.

However, Hessius said AP3’s board of directors had decided to postpone any changes to the 4% target until after the completion of an in-depth ALM analysis to be performed in 2019.

In other news from AP1, the pension fund invited applications over the holidays for the job of permanent CEO – in a bid to find a replacement for Johan Magnusson who was sacked in September after breaching internal rules by investing personally in an IPO the fund participated in.

AP1 said it was working with Swedish financial recruitment firm Lager & Partners in the hiring process, which had a deadline for applications of 3 January.