Industry sources agreed with Mr. McHugh and said to better match liabilities, many corporate chief financial officers — who likely will play a much bigger role in pension oversight than they have to date — are already moving assets into long-duration bonds and using swaps to control interest rate risk.
Data from JPMorgan's survey of investment decision-makers at 75 large corporate U.S. defined benefit plans this summer found that 17% already are using an LDI strategy and another 41% are considering doing so. (See related story, page 6.)
In addition, sources predict many pension funds will invest more heavily in alternative asset classes and non-correlated alpha sources such as real estate, private equity, hedge funds and venture capital.
The JPMorgan Survey found 11% of the corporate plans anticipate raising their real estate allocation; 27% will increase private equity; and 17% will increase hedge fund investments.
Mr. McHugh — who has both a pension fund management and corporate finance background — predicts traditional final-average-pay defined benefit plans will move to about 30% of assets in alternatives because they still are interest-rate sensitive and will need to have more assets in duration-controlled strategies. Cash balance plans, on the other hand, will move closer to a 50% alternatives allocation to pump up returns, Mr. McHugh said.
Moving to an alternatives weighting of between 30% to 50% represents a huge leap for most corporate defined benefit plans, given that JPMorgan survey data showed that as of Dec. 31, private equity, real estate and hedge funds collectively accounted for just 8% of total assets. Drilling down for more specifics, JPMorgan researchers found corporate plans included in their survey had an average allocation to real estate of 6.1%; 4.9% to private equity; and 6.9% to hedge funds in midsummer.
The new requirements of FAS 158 and the funding requirements of the Pension Protection Act are changing the investment horizon, Mr. McHugh said.
"When pensions were off the balance sheet, pension managers had a very long investment horizon. Now that the pension number is on the balance sheet, they need to manage that plan on a short-, mid- and long-term basis. And pension managers now have the dual job of enhancing benefits for participants and enhancing shareholder value. The last thing a CFO wants to have to explain on an analyst call is why the pension plan is creating so much volatility in the company's earnings," he said
Many money managers are gearing to meet demand for both LDI and alternative investments, as well as to offer clients consultative advice about portfolio construction using these as well as traditional asset classes.