Ah models, my old friends. You’re always wrong, but sometimes helpful. Often dangerous too.
A recent article in The Actuary magazine addressed whether “de-risking in members’ best interests?” I say “recent” even though it’s from August because I am a little behind on my The Actuary reading.
In the article, the authors demonstrate that by modelling the impact of covenant risk, optimal investment portfolios for Defined Benefit (DB) pensions actually have more risky assets than if this covenant risk is ignored.
The covenant they refer to is the obligation of the sponsor to make good deficits within the pension fund. Covenant risk then is the risk that the sponsor is unable (typically through its own insolvency) to make good on this promise.
On the surface it should seem counterintuitive that by modelling an additional risk to pensioners, the answer is to invest in riskier assets, thus increasing risk.
The explanation proffered by the authors is that the higher expected returns from riskier assets allow the fund to potentially build up surplus, thus reducing the risks of covenant failure.
I can follow that logic, particularly in the case where the dependence between DB fund insolvency and sponsor default is week. It doesn’t mean it’s a useful result. Continue reading “Modelling one side of a two-sided problem”