Nigerian pension funds once again recorded another year of brilliant performance in 2016 roundly beating the NSE Pension Index by wide margins. The NSE Pension index ended the year 2016 at 810.04 points from its 2015 value of 815.16 points, thereby ending the year down by 5.13 points or -0.63%.
Savings Retirement Accounts (RSA):
Every RSA ended the year with positive performance of 8% or greater. The highest return of 12.67% came from AXA Mansard Pension Retirement Savings Account, followed by Future Unity Glanvills (FUG) RSA with 11.93%
The performance of the Retiree Accounts followed closely that of the RSA but unlike the RSAs, the Retiree Accounts did much better with no losses recorded by any one of them. APT Pension Fund Retiree Account led the performance league with 14.94%. All the Retiree Accounts but one, recorded double digit positive return in 2016.
Asset Allocation is Everything
Asset allocation has been said to be responsible for most of the investment fortunes in history. That too can be rightly said about Nigerian pension funds. The implication of asset allocation is that it matters how a portfolio is divided between Bond, Equities, Cash, Money Market and other asset classes. Most Pension funds in Nigeria allocate at least 75% of their Asset Under Management (AUM) to fixed income securities (Government Bonds, Treasury Bills and corporate bonds). The interest rate on those assets have been on the increase over time and the CBN has signaled that it does not plan to reduce the rates any time soon.
Though there is an inverse relationship between interest rate (yield) and bond prices, the increasing yield environment especially at the shorter end of the yield curve implies that matured bonds or treasury bills are being reinvested at higher yields and lower prices which benefits the pension funds. By having much of their AUM in fixed income securities, these PSAs tend to be insulated from the downside pressure of the stock market.
Asset Characteristics too
Another pointer to the performance of the Pension funds can be seen by looking at how they behave in relationship to the entire stock market. All the Pension funds have Betas of less than 1 indicating that they do not move in tandem with the stock market. This indication is also supported by the low R-Squared of the pension funds. All these relatively low statistics derive from the fact that majority of the pension fund assets are held in fixed income and money market instruments whose correlation with the market is relatively low.
A beta of 1 indicates that the security’s price moves in tandem with the market but a beta of less than 1 means that the security is imperially less volatile than the market while a beta of greater than 1 indicates that the security’s price is theoretically more volatile than the market. R-Squared on the other hand is a measure of the percentage of a portfolio’s or security’s performance that is attributable to the performance of its bench mark.
The implication of this is that for risk averse investors planning and saving for their retirement, it may be more prudent to overweight on pension fund assets by making additional voluntary contributions rather than investing same in the regular stock market.
Risk Adjusted Performance
Though the RSAs and other Retiree accounts are expectedly and comparatively less risky than similar products like Fixed Income Mutual Funds (as evidenced by their standard deviation of returns), their performance is not as mouthwatering as they seem when analyzed on a risk adjusted basis. Most of the pension funds have negative Alpha and negative Sharpe ratio, according to research by Quantitative Financial Analytics.
Alpha is a measure of the return on an investment compared to a suitable market index such that an alpha of 1% means the investment’s return over a period was 1% better than the market during that same period while an alpha of -1 means the investment underperformed the market. Sharpe ratio measures the risk adjusted performance of an asset or portfolio taking into
consideration the prevailing risk-free rate.
The major reason for the negative alpha and Sharpe ratio is that the risk-free rate in Nigeria is quite high, (a risk-free rate of 15% was used for this analysis). Granting the low risk characteristics of the pension funds and the rising interest environment in Nigeria and compared to the performance of other asset classes, it will be appropriate to say Bravo to the pension fund managers for a job well done in 2016.