Last month, for the first time, we experimented with a new approach to our monthly international strategy meeting. Video conferencing.
Hans from Frankfurt was first on. I was next and Yoshi in Tokyo wasn’t far behind. Clive from the UK took a while to work out where he was supposed to look, and Jim from Boston looked very tired. But then it was 6am for him.
Yoshi was the happiest – as you might expect, given the performance of the Japanese market. ‘Our call on equities last year was a good one,’ he tells us. ‘The TOPIX is up over 40% since the start of the year and nearly 70% on a year ago.’
‘I wish we had increased our allocation to Japanese equities,’ says Jim.
‘But then the S&P is up over 25% since January, so we can’t complain. Even your government hasn’t been able to spoil that party,’ quips Clive.
Frankfurt, Amsterdam and London are all up and we are all heading for a good year, thanks to our timely decisions.
‘But what about the longer term?’ asks Hans.
‘Looks like the Fed will end tapering sometime early next year,’ replies Jim. ‘And our politicians need to agree to raise the budget ceiling, so we can expect a choppy ride in the early part of 2014.’
‘I am moderately optimistic that we have overcome the worst of the euro crisis but progress to banking union is still too slow,’ Hans adds. ‘And we Germans are still paying for the integration of the GDR over 20 years since the reunification, so you can forget fiscal union until southern Europe gets its house in order.’
‘Look at Italy,’ says Clive. ‘They seem to be a long way off.’
‘We have hedged almost all of our duration exposure and we have to think in terms of where the world will be in one year, two years and five years,’ I venture. ‘But in the meantime, interest rate rises seem a long way off and we are desperate for yield.’
‘That means looking at some of the more exotic areas of credit,’ says Jim. ‘Given the shape of our liabilities, our risk models tell us we have to crimp our equity exposure somewhat going forward, so we have been looking at mortgages, real estate debt and loans.’
‘Problem is,’ says Clive, ‘some of these more exotic asset classes don’t fit neatly in to our asset allocation buckets.’
‘You’re right,’ I reply. ‘Where does real estate or infrastructure debt go? You can talk in terms of risk factor exposure, but I don’t think any of us are ready to throw out the existing models.’
‘Certainly not the trustees,’ says Clive. ‘And you still get the exposure to risk factors whatever the model. It’s about understanding your risks.’
Yoshi looks sage.
‘There is only one solution,’ he says. ‘We have to get more buckets.’
Pieter Mullen is investment director at Wasserdicht Pension Funds