GLOBAL - Many sovereign wealth funds did not rebalance in the wake of the financial crisis, suggesting their roles as pension providers has lost importance, one expert said.
BNP Paribas Investment Partners head of central banks, supranational institutions and sovereign wealth funds Gary Smith said as the asset pools controlled by national wealth managers has shrunk, the priority has been to use these schemes as national stabilization funds, rather than pension funds.
He said many wealth funds did not rebalance their assets during the crisis, abandoning their asset allocations which had presumably been set up to meet pensions, and other, obligations.
In an interview with Global Pensions, Smith said: "I look at their asset mix and how it's changed. If they are really a pension provider, then...they must rebalance. If they're not rebalancing, then they're not really putting their number one priority as a pension provision."
He said one clear exception has been Norway's Government Pension Fund - Global, which did stick to its asset allocation throughout the crisis and has been very transparent about its investment decisions.
Using sovereign wealth assets for pension provisions has its difficulties. For one, it's hard to tell exactly what the liabilities are, he said.
Smith said: "The pension promise is always a soft promise, it's never a defined promise, so the liability can't be defined. And if you suffer shrinkage in your resources, you can very quickly reprioritize your liabilities. If (pensions) was the last thing that was added, that may be the first thing that goes."
One result of not rebalancing has been an increase in the fund's fixed income assets. As equity values dropped, fixed income went up.
Smith said these investors are not likely to rush back into risky assets, particularly since their liabilities can quickly change depending on the needs of their home country.
He said: "If you don't know how much you'll need, you'll take quite a lot as a precaution. They don't want to be caught with the tide going out with no shorts."
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