Collateralized Loan Obligation – Stress Testing U.S. Insurers’ Year-End 2021 Exposure

Link: https://content.naic.org/sites/default/files/capital-markets-special-reports-clo-stressed-analysis-ye2021.pdf

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Excerpt:

The stress test analysis found that 1,114 U.S. insurers, with a surplus of about $1.2 trillion, held some
amount of CLO tranches modeled. Similar to last year’s stress testing results, we found that the losses on
insurers’ CLO investments that were modeled, even in the stressed scenarios, were highly concentrated.


To understand the impact of potential losses on insurers, principal loss (compare with Table 7) for
scenarios A, B, and C was divided by each insurer’s year-end 2021 total surplus. For each scenario, the
principal loss as a percentage of total surplus for each of the 1,114 insurers was sorted from highest to
lowest. Then the insurer with the largest percentage loss was referenced as “Insurer 1,” the insurer with
the second largest percentage loss was referenced as “Insurer 2,” and so on until the smallest percentage loss, which was referenced as “‘Insurer 1,114” (x-axis). Please note the difference in the scale of the y-axis
in Charts 1, 2, and 3.


Chart 1 shows the distribution of losses as a percentage of surplus for December 2021’s Scenario A.
Although the bulk of insurers show no losses, 49 of the 1,114 insurers experienced losses in this
scenario. Intuitively, the losses were derived primarily from CCC-rated CLO tranches. The largest loss as
a percentage of surplus under Scenario A was 9.72%. Similar to the analysis for year-end 2020, no
insurers experienced double digit losses.

Author(s): Jean-Baptiste Carelus, Eric Kolchinsky, Hankook Lee, Jennifer Johnson, Michele Wong, Azar Abramov

Publication Date: Jan 2023

Publication Site: NAIC Capital Markets Special Reports

GOP-led House committee launches working group to combat ESG proposals

Link: https://www.pionline.com/washington/republican-led-house-committee-launches-anti-esg-working-group

Excerpt:

Congressional Republicans on Friday took another step in their quest to dismantle the Biden administration’s environmental, social and governance rule-making initiatives.

The House Financial Services Committee has formed a working group to “combat the threat to our capital markets posed by those on the far-left pushing environmental, social and governance proposals,” the committee’s Chairman Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., announced.

The group will be led by Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., and include eight other Republican committee members.

Among its priorities, the group will examine ways to “rein in the SEC’s regulatory overreach;” reinforce the materiality “standard as a pillar of the nation’s disclosure regime;” and hold to account market participants who “misuse the proxy process or their outsized influence to impose ideological preferences in ways that circumvent democratic lawmaking,” according to a news release.

“This group will develop a comprehensive approach to ESG that protects the financial interests of everyday investors and ensures our capital markets remain the envy of the world,” Mr. McHenry said in the news release. “Financial Services Committee Republicans as a whole will continue our work to expand capital formation, hold Biden’s rogue regulators accountable, and support American job creators.”

Author(s): Brian Croce

Publication Date: 3 Feb 2023

Publication Site: Pensions & Investments

Investing Novices Are Calling the Shots for $4 Trillion at US Pensions

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2023-01-04/us-public-pension-plans-run-by-investing-novices-are-on-the-edge-of-a-crisis?cmpid%3D=socialflow-twitter-economics&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_content=economics

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In the US, a lineup of unpaid union-backed reps, retirees and political appointees are the vanguards of a $4 trillion slice of the economy that looks after the nation’s retired public servants. They’re proving to be no match for a system that’s exploded in size and complexity.

The disparity is dragging on state and local finances and — together with headwinds that include a growing ratio of retirees to workers and lenient accounting standards — gobbling up an increasing share of government budgets. Precisely how much it’s costing Americans is hard to say. But a Bloomberg News analysis of data from CEM Benchmarking, which tracks industry performance, indicates that the price tag over the past decade could run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

….

The disconnect was on display at a 2021 investment committee meeting of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which provides benefits to more than 750,000 individuals. An external adviser warned board members that the boom in blank-check companies was a sign of froth in financial markets.

“I had never heard of those,” chairwoman Theresa Taylor told her fellow directors of the then-sizzling products known as SPACs, according to a transcript of the meeting.

….

Systems are underfunded partly because public officials face greater pressure to fulfill today’s demands than to fund obligations 20 or 30 years away. And because hikes in taxes and contributions are unpopular, there’s an incentive to downplay the problem.

Instead, plans are investing in higher risk assets, which make up about one-third of holdings, according to data from Preqin. That allocation has more than doubled since just before the 2008 financial crisis as plans have poured $1 trillion into alternatives.

….

Many pension advisers make smart recommendations: the guidance that CalPERS should stay away from SPACs, for one, was proven sound once regulators ramped up scrutiny of that market, which has all but ground to a halt. Yet it remains unclear how closely individual directors evaluate investments that get put in front of them.

“I served with one director for about 15 years and never saw him ask a question” about his system’s investments, said Herb Meiberger, a finance professor who sat on the board of the $36 billion San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System until 2017. A spokesman for the system said it takes governance and fiduciary duty very seriously, and that board members receive training to help them execute their duties.

Harvard finance professor Emil Siriwardane has researched why some US plans have put more money into alternatives. It wasn’t the worst-funded or those with the most aggressive performance targets. “By a factor of eight-to-ten,” the closest correlation is the investment consultants that pension plans hire, Siriwardane found.

….

Canada’s detour from the American-style model began in the late 1980s, when Ontario’s government and teacher federation decided to reboot a plan that was invested in non-marketable provincial bonds. They set up the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in 1990, concluding the province could save $1.2 billion over a decade by operating more like a business.

Ontario Teachers’ first board chairman was a former Bank of Canada governor and its first finance chief was a corporate finance veteran. It soon began investing directly in private markets and infrastructure, opened offices in Europe and Asia and acquired a large real estate firm. The system pays its board members close to what corporate directors make, and manages 80% of its investments internally. Those practices have put it on a solid financial base: Ontario Teachers’ says it’s been fully funded for the past nine years, with a current funding ratio of 107%.

Until the 2008 financial crisis, boards in the Netherlands — where traditional public sector pensions are common — looked a lot like those in the US. Then the country’s central bank was given authority to assess candidates. It looked at directors’ combined risk management, actuarial and other expertise.

Many smaller Dutch funds didn’t make the cut. The regulatory hurdles helped set off a wave of mergers that, over the past decade, has reduced the number of plans by over two-thirds. The system has sprouted professional directors who serve more than one at a time. 

Few US boards are following suit. Only 19 of 113 funds studied made changes to their board composition from 1990 to 2012, a paper published in The Review of Financial Studies in 2017 found.

 “A lot of funds in the US like the idea of transforming, want to transform, but don’t have the political fortitude to do it,” said Brad Kelly of Global Governance Advisors, a Toronto-based firm that works with US and Canadian pension funds.

Author(s): Neil Weinberg

Publication Date: 3 Jan 2023

Publication Site: Bloomberg

How an insurer in Iowa became the most coveted asset on Wall Street

Link: https://www.ft.com/content/b4261b75-f0cd-4d23-9253-8c392a5e0ba9

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American Equity Investment Life last week rebuffed an unsolicited $4bn offer from a rival controlled by Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, capping a tumultuous year during which Bhalla also antagonised his company’s largest shareholder, Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management.

Underpinning the boardroom drama is Bhalla’s determination to keep AEL, one of the few independent annuities operators left, out of the wave of consolidation sweeping through the industry as private equity groups hoover up insurance assets.

The bad blood between Bhalla and Brookfield is a product of a deal that AEL entered into in November with start-up fund manager 26North, founded by the former longtime Apollo Global executive Josh Harris.

Bhalla had first turned to Brookfield in 2020 as it sought a white knight to fend off an earlier hostile bid from Apollo, where Harris worked at the time. Now with the Elliott bid out in the open, AEL and its $70bn of assets are in the crosshairs as a clutch of Wall Street investment titans circle the company.

Apollo, Brookfield, KKR, Carlyle Group, Ares and Sixth Street are among the many groups that could be bidders in a potentially frenzied auction next year.

Author(s): Sujeet Indap and Mark Vandevelde

Publication Date: 29 Dec 2022

Publication Site: Financial Times

Cultural stereotypes of multinational banks

Link: https://cepr.org/voxeu/columns/cultural-stereotypes-multinational-banks

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Previous studies (e.g. Guiso et al. 2006, 2009) have used aggregate survey data from Eurobarometer to show that the volume of flows between pairs of countries is importantly affected by bilateral trust. A limitation of such country-level evidence is that average levels of trust are almost certainly correlated with unobserved characteristics of country pairs. To rule out confounding factors, we therefore develop a bank-specific measure of trust.

For this purpose, we model banks as hierarchies (as illustrated by Figure 1). Strategic decisions such as whether or not a bank should invest in a country are generally taken at bank headquarters. Portfolio managers working in the headquarters country or elsewhere are then responsible for implementing those decisions. Because we are concerned with investment decisions undertaken by headquarters, we focus our analysis on the extensive margin of sovereign exposures – whether or not a bank invests in the bonds of a country, as opposed to exactly how much it invests.

Given this framework, cultural stereotypes in subsidiaries can shape the soft information that subordinates transmit up the hierarchy to headquarters, where the broad parameters guiding portfolio investment decisions are set. They can affect how that soft information is received by directors, because the latter share the same stereotypes, reflecting the extent to which banks hire and promote internally across borders, such that the composition of bank boards and officers reflects the geography of the bank’s branch network. We provide empirical support for this framework by showing that multinational branch networks help predict the national composition of high-level managerial teams at bank headquarters.

Author(s): Orkun Saka, Barry Eichengreen

Publication Date: 23 Dec 2022

Publication Site: VoxEU

The great anti-ESG backlash

Link: https://thespectator.com/topic/great-anti-esg-backlash/

Excerpt:

The ESG story starts in 2004, when the three-letter acronym appeared in a UN report arguing for environmental, social and governance considerations to be hardwired into financial systems. Since then the term has been on a long but rapidly accelerating journey from NGO-world obscurity into the financial mainstream and subsequently the political limelight, prompting strong reactions from a chorus of prominent figures. Elon Musk calls it “a scam.” Peter Thiel says it’s a “hate factory.” Warren Buffett describes it as “asinine.”

Unsurprisingly for a piece of UN jargon that has become part of the political cut and thrust, “ESG” is often used to mean different things. Properly defined, it refers to an investment strategy that factors in environmental, social and corporate governance considerations. That might mean not investing in oil and gas companies, for example. Or it might mean only investing in companies that have a stated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. As it has grown in infamy, the acronym has also come to refer not only to investment products billed as ESG, but to other practices through which investment firms use their customers’ money to push political ends. For example, your pension may not be invested in an ESG fund, but the manager of that money may still be using stocks owned on your behalf to pursue political goals. A third, even broader, meaning is as a synonym for woke capitalism: a broad catch-all for big business’s embrace of bien pensant opinion, particularly on the environment.

….

This win-win rhetoric has been the rallying cry of the ESG crowd on what has looked like an unstoppable march. Make money and do good: who could possibly object? Millions have bought into this seductive logic. Globally, more than $35 trillion of assets are invested according to ESG considerations, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2016. From 2020 to 2022, the size of ESG assets in the United States grew by 40 percent. According to an analysis by the asset manager Pimco, ESG was mentioned on just 1 percent of earnings calls between 2005 and 2018. By 2021, that figure had risen to 20 percent.

….

If the anti-ESG movement has the wind in its sails, that’s in large part thanks to last year’s tumultuous geopolitical events and economic trends, foremost among them the war in Ukraine. The Russian invasion has transformed the ESG debate in two ways.

First, it has underscored the ethical dilemmas ESG champions would rather ignore. For example, many ESG funds rule out investment in weapons manufacturers. Is it really ethical to deny capital to the firms producing the material Ukraine needs to survive? Indeed, the socially responsible position is arguably the exact opposite.

Second, it has transformed the energy conversation in a way that has made many more of us acutely aware of the importance of cheap, abundant and reliable energy — and conscious that it cannot be taken for granted. In other words, each of us is a little more like Riley Moore’s West Virginia constituents, who don’t have much time for net-zero grandstanding given that they will be the ones who pay a heavy price for someone else’s pursuit of feel-good goals. What has always been true is becoming clearer: a financial system that starves domestic energy producers of capital not only hurts those whose savings are being used to pursue political ends, but ends up as a de facto tax on US consumers in the form of higher energy costs. ESG, says Goldman Sachs’s Michele Della Vigna, “creates affordability problems which could generate political backlash. That is the risk — political instability and the consumer effectively suffering from this cost inflation.”

Author(s): Oliver Wiseman

Publication Date: 22 Dec 2022

Publication Site: The Spectator

Market Rout Sends State and City Pension Funds to Worst Year Since 2009

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/market-rout-sends-state-and-city-pension-funds-to-worst-year-since-2009-11660009928?st=sooa4lma1xq9ff4&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink&fbclid=IwAR0CC7k-F2J_IblLDjSODS1iDZuRxzuGk1-4Bgwtc_AQ0d4AajP00toEQH8

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Public pension plans lost a median 7.9% in the year ended June 30, according to Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service data released Tuesday, their worst annual performance since 2009 and a fresh sign of the chronic financial stress facing governments and retirement savers. 

Much of the damage occurred in April, May and June, when global markets came under intense pressure driven by concerns about inflationhigh stock valuations and a broad retreat from speculative investments including cryptocurrencies. Funds that manage the retirement savings of teachers, firefighters and police officers returned a median minus 8.9% for that three-month period, their worst quarterly performance since the early months of the global pandemic.

Author(s): Heather Gillers

Publication Date: 9 Aug 2022

Publication Site: WSJ

Arizona divesting funds from BlackRock over ESG push

Link: https://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/arizona-divesting-funds-from-blackrock-over-esg-push

Excerpt:

Arizona is forging ahead with its plan to pull the state’s funds from BlackRock due to concerns over the massive investment firm’s push for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies that have led other states to take similar actions.

Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee said in a statement released Thursday that the state treasury’s Investment Risk Management Committee (IRMC) began to assess the relationship between the state’s trust fund and BlackRock in late 2021. 

“Part of the review by IRMC involved reading the annual letters by CEO Larry Fink, which in recent years, began dictating to businesses in the United States to follow his personal political beliefs,” Yee wrote. “In short, BlackRock moved from a traditional asset manager to a political action committee. Our internal investment team believed this moved the firm away from its fiduciary duty in general as an asset manager.”

In response to those findings, Yee noted that Arizona began to divest over $543 million from BlackRock money market funds in February 2022 and “reduced our direct exposure to BlackRock by 97%” over the course of the year. Yee added that Arizona “will continue to reduce our remaining exposure in BlackRock over time in a phased in approach that takes into consideration safe and prudent investment strategy that protects the taxpayers.”

….

Florida’s chief financial officer announced recently that the state’s treasury is taking action to remove about $2 billion in assets from BlackRock’s stewardship before the end of this year. In October, Louisiana and Missouri announced they would reallocate state pension funds away from BlackRock, which amounted to roughly $1.3 billion in combined assets. Taken together with Arizona’s divestment, roughly $3.8 billion in state funds have been divested from BlackRock by those four states alone.

Additionally, North Carolina’s state treasurer has called for BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s resignation and the Texas legislature has subpoenaed BlackRock for financial documents.

The investment firm has also taken heat from activists who argue BlackRock isn’t doing enough to follow through with its ESG commitments. New York City Comptroller Brad Lander wrote to Fink in September citing an “alarming” contradiction between the company’s words and its deeds. Lander wrote, “BlackRock cannot simultaneously declare that climate risk is a systemic financial risk and argue that BlackRock has no role in mitigating the risks that climate change poses to its investments by supporting decarbonization in the real economy.”

Author(s): Eric Revell

Publication Date: 11 Dec 2022

Publication Site: Fox Business

Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago Dives into Private Debt

Link: https://www.marketsgroup.org/news/Chicago-MEABF-Private-Debt

Excerpt:

The Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (MEABF) has added private debt to its portfolio.


The MEABF board voted to work with three managers in the sector, allocating up to $100 million. It approved up to $40 million to both Partners Group Credit Strategy and Angelo Gordon Direct Lending Fund and up to $20 million to Brightwood Capital Fund, Stephen Wolff, MEABF’s investment officer, tells Markets Group.

….

Wolff said that the MEABF board approved a dedicated allocation to private debt of 4% in early 2021 and that this search fulfilled the allocation. MEABF had $3.4 billion in assets as of July 31. He said MEABF has in the past had mezzanine investments but has not had a dedicated allocation to private debt.

….

As of Dec. 31, MEABF had a fixed income target allocation of 25% and an actual asset allocation of 21%. Its real estate target was 10%, just above its actual asset allocation of 9%. Domestic equities are its largest segment with a 26% target and a 26% allocation. International equities were at 18%, just above its 17% target. Hedged equities, meanwhile, were at 12%, above its 10% target, while private equity was at 3%, below its 5% target.

Author(s): David G. Barry

Publication Date: 21 August 2022

Publication Site: Markets Group

(Updated) New Hong Kong Watch report finds that MSCI investors are at risk of passively funding crimes against humanity in Xinjiang

Link: https://www.hongkongwatch.org/all-posts/2022/12/5/updated-new-hkw-report-finds-that-msci-investors-are-at-risk-of-passively-funding-crimes-against-humanity-in-xinjiang

Report PDF: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58ecfa82e3df284d3a13dd41/t/638e318e6697c029da8e5c38/1670263209080/EDITED+REPORT+5+DEC.pdf

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A new report by Hong Kong Watch have found that a number of pension funds may be passively invested in at least 13 China based companies where there is credible evidence of involvement in Uyghur forced labour programs and construction of internment camps in Xinjiang.

 As part of the report, Hong Kong Watch found that major asset managers are exposed passively to these companies as a result of their inclusion on Morgan Stanley Capital International’s Emerging Markets Index, China Index and All World Index ex-USA.  

….

Commenting on the release of the report, Johnny Pattersonco-founder and a research fellow at Hong Kong Watch, said:

“13 companies on MSCI’s emerging markets index are either known to have directly used forced labour through China’s forcible transfer of Uyghurs, or been involved in the construction of camps. Given this Index is the most widely tracked Emerging Markets index in the world, it raises serious questions about how seriously international financial institutions take their international human rights obligations or the ‘S’ in ESG.

Our view is that firms known to use modern slavery or known to be complicit in crimes against humanity should be classed alongside tobacco as ‘sin stocks’, or stocks which investors do not touch. Governments have a duty to signal which firms are unacceptable, but international financial institutions must also be doing their full due diligence. It is unacceptable that enormous amounts of the money of ordinary pensioners and retail investors is being passively channelled into firms that are known to use forced labour.” 

Publication Date: 5 Dec 2022

Publication Site: Hong Kong Watch

BlackRock’s Red-State Woes Continue as Florida Divests

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/blackrocks-red-state-woes-continue-as-florida-divests/

Excerpt:

State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced Thursday that the Florida Treasury will begin divesting $2 billion worth of assets currently under management by BlackRock.

BlackRock managed $1.43 billion of Florida’s long duration portfolio, which includes investments such as corporate bonds, asset-backed securities and municipal bonds. Additionally, BlackRock managed $600 million of Florida funds in a short-term treasury fund, which invests in short-term and overnight investments.

Patronis cited efforts by BlackRock and its CEO, Larry Fink, to embrace environmental, social and governance investment principles as the reason Florida will pull the funds from the manager.. In the wake of the announcement, the state will freeze the $1.43 billion in long-term securities at its custodial bank.

….

“It’s my responsibility to get the best returns possible for taxpayers,” Patronis said in the statement. “The more effective we are in investing dollars to generate a return, the more effective we’ll be in funding priorities like schools, hospitals and roads. As major banking institutions and economists predict a recession in the coming year, and as the Fed increases interest rates to combat the inflation crisis, I need partners within the financial services industry who are as committed to the bottom line as we are – and I don’t trust BlackRock’s ability to deliver. As Larry Fink stated to CEOs, ‘Access to capital is not a right. It is a privilege.’ As Florida’s CFO, I agree wholeheartedly, so we’ll be taking Larry up on his offer.”

Author(s): Dusty Hagedorn

Publication Date: 2 December 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Hong Kong Watch gives evidence to the Canada-China Relationship Committee on ESG investment & country risk analysis

Link: https://www.hongkongwatch.org/all-posts/2022/12/1/hong-kong-watch-gives-evidence-to-the-canada-china-relationship-committee-on-esg-investment-amp-country-risk-analysis

Excerpt:

On Tuesday, Hong Kong Watch’s co-founder and trustee, Aileen Calverley, and Director of Policy and Advocacy, Sam Goodman, gave evidence to the Special Committee on the Canada–People’s Republic of China Relationship on the exposure of Canadian pension funds to Chinese stocks and bonds.

Hong Kong Watch has previously written extensively on the question of ESG, business, human rights, and Canadian pension funds exposure to Chinese companies linked to gross human rights violations, including the internment camps in Xinjiang.

In his remarks, Sam Goodman, discussed why China should be considered an ESG investment risk, recommending that:

  • Lawmakers consider sensible regulations to define ESG, label China as an ESG risk, and introduce a blacklist like the USA to restrict investment in Chinese firms with questionable human rights, environmental, and governance credentials.

In her remarks, Aileen Calverley discussed the risk of pension fund investments in China in the event of sanctions, recommending that the Government:

  • Include a China Country Risk Analysis in the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
  • Encourage publicly controlled pension funds to avoid exposure in China.

The full committee hearing can be watched here.

Publication Date: 1 Dec 2022

Publication Site: Hong Kong Watch