Nearly five years after suffering the biggest investment losses of their careers, chief investment officers are hot on the trail of volatility management solutions.
They are seeking to protect their institutional investment pools from drastic drawdowns in the event of another financial crisis of the magnitude endured in 2008-2009 using a wide range of volatility protection measures.
Approaches range from less complex strategies such as well-diversified asset allocation formulas and low-volatility equity and fixed-income strategies, and extend to more intricate risk-parity and liability-driven investment approaches that limit equity-market risk, and overlay strategies that hedge risk synthetically through the use of derivatives.
Institutional investors using approaches to volatility management include:
- Air Canada, Montreal, for its C$10.9 billion (U.S.$10.6 billion) defined benefit plan;
- Colorado Fire and Police Pension Association, Greenwood Village, $3.5 billion defined benefit plan;
- The Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich., U.S. defined benefit plans totaling $12 billion;
- Fairfax County (Va.) Employees' Retirement System, $3.4 billion defined benefit plan;
- Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, Toronto, C$47.4 billion;
- Koch Industries Inc., Wichita, Kan., $5.4 billion defined benefit plan;
- PKA, Hellerup, Denmark, 200 billion Danish kroner ($36 billion) for five defined benefit plans; and
- University of Chicago, $6.5 billion endowment.
At its simplest, “volatility (management) is about management of extremes” and volatility management strategies focus on outcomes that control downside volatility or capture returns from active volatility trading, said Vincent de Martel, managing director, global market strategies at BlackRock Inc., based in San Francisco.
“Many investors find themselves in an interesting quandary,” said Michael Thomas, chief investment officer, Americas institutional, at Russell Investments, Seattle.
“They need a relatively high allocation to equity or equity-like beta to have any chance of meeting their return targets. Taking more risk to attempt to close the pension funding gap puts pension funds between a rock and a hard place and that's fatal tail risk. You have to take risk to get return, but it could kill you,” Mr. Thomas stressed.