Some institutional investors need a stronger understanding of the risk-factor exposures across their combined equity portfolios if they hope to achieve their intended exposures, a new Northern Trust Asset Management survey report concludes.
In a Northern Trust survey of 139 global institutional investors, 51% indicated they use factor-tilt strategies in their equity portfolios. Of the total surveyed, 31% said they were “fairly uncertain” or “unaware” of their overall equity portfolios' actual risk-factor exposures, while 51% were “moderately certain” and 18% were “very certain.”
“A lot of the (investors surveyed) haven't taken a big-picture view,” said Matthew Peron, senior vice president and managing director of global equity at Northern Trust Asset Management, Chicago.
An analysis of the equity portfolios of three pension funds — one from the U.S., one from Europe, and one from the U.K. — further reinforced the view that investors don't have a full and accurate picture of their equity portfolios. Northern Trust wouldn't identify the pension funds.
The report found the three pension funds all had neutral factor exposures despite intended overall tilts to one or more factors, which Northern Trust identified as volatility, value, size, momentum, yield, leverage and size.
The three pension funds used a range of passive and active strategies that ultimately canceled each other out, something they might have avoided with a deeper understanding of their actual exposures across their portfolios, a report on the survey said.
The report also reviewed the experiences of four large institutional investors that successfully adopted factor-based strategies: the 272.6 billion Swedish kronor ($37.8 billion) AP3, Sweden's national pension buffer fund; Taiwan's NT$2.4 trillion (US$80.1 billion) Bureau of Labor Funds; PGGM, a Dutch fiduciary manager owned by the e129 billion ($164.4 billion) Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn; and the e22 billion Danish pension fund PKA Ltd.
Based on those investors' experiences, the report found that analyzing and understanding what is currently in a portfolio before making further investment decisions is crucial to success. In addition, failure to understand a portfolio can result in unintended bias or cancel out intended biases. Still, determining current factor exposure can be complex due to the number of factors that influence a portfolio's performance, the report said.
“The fact that fewer than one in five respondents felt certain of their factor exposures shows the difficulty of monitoring a large, complex institutional portfolio,” said John Krieg, managing director of institutional distribution at Northern Trust.
To assess and monitor risk-factor exposure across their equity portfolios, 57% of survey respondents said they use their internal team, 20% don't assess or don't consider assessment a priority, 17% use their consultants and 6% assess their risk-factor exposure in other ways.