Spanish occupational pension funds gained 3.2% on average in 2017, according to the country’s Investment and Pension Fund Association (INVERCO).

This marked an improvement on the 2.7% gain posted in 2016, and outpaced inflation, which came in at just under 2%.

The fourth-quarter results brought the average annualised returns for Spanish occupational funds to 3% for the three years to 31 December 2017, and 4.8% for the five-year period.

At end-December total assets under management for the sector stood at €35.8bn, an increase of 1% over the year. The number of participants in the occupational system was stable at just over 2m.

Meanwhile, figures from Mercer’s Pension Investment Performance Service (PIPS) showed that, for the 2017 calendar year, equity allocations within Spanish pension funds returned 7.8%. Within this, euro-zone equities returned 8.4%, European equities outside the euro-zone gained 4.9%, and North American equities increased by 4.4%.

Among the biggest allocations within fixed income, euro-zone government bonds made 0.2%, while euro-zone credit made 1.4%. However, government bonds, high yield and credit allocations outside of Europe contributed to an overall loss in fixed income of 0.5%.

Xavier Bellavista, principal at Mercer, said these losses were due to performance and currency depreciation in non-euro-zone assets.

Within alternatives, private equity made 13.3%, hedge funds 2.3% and real estate 1.3%.

The PIPS survey covered a large sample of pension funds, most of them occupational schemes. It reported that Spanish funds on averaged allocated 59.9% to fixed income and 35.4% to equities.

Fixed income allocations were dominated by euro-zone credit (18.8%), followed by euro-zone government bonds (18%) and 9.7% in cash. Euro-zone equities made up 17.7%, North American equities 10% and emerging markets 3.6%.

According to the PIPS figures, only 4.6% of pension fund assets were held in alternatives, principally 1.7% in real estate and 1.4% in hedge funds.

There has been a gradual shift away from euro-zone holdings over the long term, according to Mercer.

Bellavista said: “The main difference between December 2017 and December 2016 is the increase in exposure to non-euro-zone assets… especially in fixed income. The equity exposure is the highest in the last seven years, while alternatives continue to increase slowly.”

In terms of risk management, Bellavista observed that in general, during 2017 and the start of 2018, pension funds had quite a positive sentiment when looking at macroeconomic data.

However, he added: “Most pension fund managers maintain a prudent approach because of high valuations and low interest rates. This is making some of them implement hedging strategies to protect against tail risk.”