Showing posts with label DNB. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DNB. Show all posts

Feb 27, 2011

Gold: Risk or Rescue?

For those of you who are still doubting...we live in a crazy world....

The Dutch Central Bank (DNB) has ordered (by court !) the glass-workers pension fund (SPVG) to decrease its 13% Gold allocation to less than 3% within two months.

DNB and Court arguments in short:
  1. An investment of 13% is not in line with the Prudent Person Rule, which includes the principle that: assets must be invested in such a manner as to ensure the security, quality, liquidity and profitability of the portfolio as a whole.

  2. Gold is a commodity and holding 13%  is classified as 'overweight' in comparison to the 2.7% average that Dutch pension funds have invested in commodities.

  3. 15% allocation in Gold is a 'concentration risk' that could lead to a coverage shortage if the gold price imploded (volatility of Gold is relatively large).

At first, it seems unbelievable that important decisions, with substantial financial impact  - even in Court - are not based on financial facts, but on 'general principles' and the way the market 'used to do it'.

A decision based on an argument that refers to 'the average pension fund,' would more or less imply that pension funds would not be allowed to base their investment strategy on their own specific situation or a changing market outlook. Pension Fund Boards appear to be  'captured' by the market and a Supervisor who obviously has a hard time to develop 'own standards'....

Secondly, DNB actually takes over the investment responsibility of the pension Board. One could wander if DNB is (sufficiently) aware of the possibility that it can be hold financially responsible for the effect of a negative outcome if it turns out in the near future that SPVG has suffered a substantial financial loss, caused by this DNB-designation.

Is Gold really a risk?....  or a rescue?

Checking the facts.... 
Let's just check if DNB's and Court's arguments are valid.....

Yearly Return
We start by comparing the yearly returns of Gold, the S&P-500 Index and '10-Y Treasury Bonds' over the period 1971-2010.

To make Bonds risk-comparable with Gold and the S&P-500 Index, the yearly average Bond interest rate is translated into a yearly Market Value performance. This is done by assuming that each year, all '10-Y Bonds' bought in a specific year are valued, and sold at the average interest rate one year later (approximation).

Here is the result:

To bring some sense and order into this chart, we calculate the 'Moving Compound Annual Growth Rate' (MCAGR).
We start in 2010 and calculate the  compound average yearly return backwards moving up (year by year) to 1971. This is the result:

Now, this looks better... and a bit surprising as well!!! On the long term Gold (μ=9.2%) and the S&P-500 (μ=10.2%) are tending to a rough 9-10% yearly return......  A little bit Surprising is that Bonds (μ=7.6%) get along very well with their big risky brothers...
Take your time to 'absorb' the impact of this chart.....

Next, we take a look at Risk. We define Risk at first as the Standard Deviation (SD). We directly cut trough to the 'Moving Risk' (Moving SD).
We might conclude here that during recent years there was an increase of risk with regard to the S&P-500 (the 'red' crisis 'Mount K2' is clearly visible). Note that also for a longer period, i.c. the last 30 years, the S&P-500 Risk is substantial higher than the Risk of Gold and much higher than the Risk of Bonds. Only looking at a period of 40 years, Gold shows 'optical' up as more risky (SD=σ=25.8%) than the two other asset categories, Bonds (SD=σ=6.9%) and S&P-500 (SD=σ=18.1%).

However this way of presenting Risk is strongly discussable. Another view of Risk that comes closer to what we naturally 'perceive' as Risk, is to define Risk as only as the Downside Standard Deviation (look up : Sortino ratio ), where all positive yearly returns are eliminated (DSD) or set to zero (DSDZ).....
Let's have a look:
Now, these charts give us a quite a different sight on Risk-reality....
It shows that -on the long term -  not Gold (DSD=Dσ=7.5%) is the riskiest asset, but the S&P-500 (DSD=Dσ=10.6%). Bonds (DSD=Dσ=0.5%), as aspected, have the least volatility and are therefore less risky.

Perhaps the Risk of Bonds is a bit underestimated (very few observations) by the DSD-method (excluding positive yearly returns). In this case the downside deviation of yearly Bond-returns, replacing positive returns by zero, which generates a standard deviation of 3.2%, gives a better indication of a more likely standard deviation on the long run.

Why Gold? 
Although these simple calculations already put the DNB conclusions in a different light, let's get to the main point that should be addressed in defending why Gold should be a substantial part of any Pension Fund portfolio:
 Gold Reduces VaR

In a 2010 (october) publication the World Gold Council published a document called Gold: Hedging Against Tail Risk. This interesting report concludes:
  1. Gold is first and foremost a consistent portfolio diversifier
  2. Gold effectively helps to manage risk in a portfolio, not only by means of increasing risk-adjusted returns, but also by reducing expected losses incurred in extreme circumstances such tail-risk events (VaR).
Following this excellent WGC report, let's test the balancing and risk-reducing  power of Gold by analyzing (classical) Risk (SD) in combining Gold with different allocations (0% up to 100%)  in an asset mix with Bonds, respectively investments in S&P-500 stocks.

This chart clearly shows that Gold has the power to reduce the S&P-500 Risk (SD) from18.1% to 13,3% with an optimal asset location mix of  approximately 60% S&P-500 and 40% Gold. 

In case of Bonds the Risk (SD) is reduced from 6.9%  to 4.8% with an optimal mix of 80% Bonds and 20% Gold.

Asset Liability Model (ALM)
In practice it is necessary to optimize, by means of an adequate ALM study, the  allocation mix of stocks, Bonds and Gold. Just as a 'quick & dirty' excercise, let's take a look at the next asset-combination scenarios, based on data over the period 1971-2010:
Just some head line observations:
  • From scenario M1 it becomes clear that even a 100% Bond scenario is't free from Risk. So diversification with other assets is a must.
  • Looking at M2-M5 we find that the optimal mix, defined as the mix that best maximizes Return (Compound Annual Growth Rate)  and Sharpe Ratio (at a Risk free rate of 3% or 4%) and minimizes Risk (Standard deviation), is something something in the order of: 70% Bonds, 15% stock and 15% Gold.
  • Scenarios M6-M8 and M9-M11 take todays most common (but strongly discussable!) practice as a starting point. Most pension funds have allocated around 50% or 40% to Bonds and 50% or 60% in more risky asset categories (stocks, etc.). It's clear that even in this situation Risk can be reduced and Return can be optimized, if Stocks are exchanged to Gold with a maximum allocation of 20% or 30%.

Although this 'rule of thumb exercise' on this website provides some basic insights, please keep in mind that finding the optimal mix is work for professionals (actuaries).

A serious ALM Study is always necessary and should not only take into account a broad range of diversified asset categories, but should also focus and optimize on:
  • The impact of the liabilities (duration) and coverage ratio volatility
  • The Timing: Mean values and Standard Deviations are great, but the expected return highly depends on the actual moment of  investment or divestment in the market.
  • Future expectations. In the current market situation (2011) the risk of interest rates going up and therefore Bond market value going strongly down, isn't hypothetical. Secondly, the stock market has been pumped up by trillions of 'investments' (?) in the US economy. Once this crisis-aid definitely stops, the question is if these 'cement investments' will be strong enough to keep stocks up. Personally I fear the worst...
    Not to mention a scenario with declining stock rates in combination with increasing interest rates and inflation......
    Who said the life of an actuary was easy???

We may conclude that:
  • Investing in Gold up to a 10% to 15% allocation, reduces the Risk of a portfolio consisting of Bonds and S&P-500 Stocks substantially. 
  • Gold is less Risky than investing in S&P-500 Stocks

Therefore the 'not with facts' underpinned intervention of DNB looks - to put it euphemistically -  at least strongly discussable....

A wise and modest underpinned allocation of Gold is no Risk, it's a Rescue!

Related Links:
- Spreadsheet with Data used in this Blog
- Prudent person Rule
- IPE: Dutch regulator orders pension scheme to dump gold
- Downside Risk:Sortino ratio
- Dutch Central Bank Orders Pension Fund To Sell Its Gold
- Pension Fund Benchmarking 
- Strategic Risk Managment and Risk Monitoring for Pension Funds

Bonus: Gold, Hedging against Tail Risk Video

Jan 17, 2011

In control through better communication!

End of November 2010 the Dutch Regulator (DNB) met with certifying actuaries as well as external auditors. Both meetings were dominated by the theme of "accuracy of reporting" for pension funds, an important DNB monitoring theme.

DNB stressed that all pension fund reports are a key source of surveillance information. With confidence, every Pension Fund stakeholder should be able to rely on the accuracy and completeness of the information in pension fund reports. In practice, this is not always the case. DNB will increasingly hold pension fund boards, certifying actuaries and accountants responsible for taking appropriate actions and - if  necessary - DNB will enforce action.

Main topics on the accountant-Actuary table are:
- the valuation of technical provisions
- the valuation of the required equity and
- compliance with the prudent person rule.

In control through better communication
The introduction in 2011 of so called 'multi-party meetings' (ie consultation between pension fund management, actuary, accountant (auditor) and regulator DNB) with some larger pension funds will certainly help to improve communication between all concerned parties.

This excellent initiative will also certainly help pension funds to increase control.
Key issue is that the pension Board has (to keep) final responsibility and DNB has to take care that they do not implicitly take over part of this responsibility. Secondly DNB is responsible for an efficient and clear regulation/governance structure. Too many informal consultation meetings might not be efficient and bear the risk of unclear responsibilities. 

- Newsletter Pensions DNB (Dutch, 2011)
- Source: Four leaved clover Coin

Sep 26, 2010

Equity Returns and Mean Reversion

One of the most triggering questions - given the current crisis - is:

Will equity returns recover?

Mean Reversion
In 2009 the S&P-500 index - as most stock market indices - reached the lowest level since the turn of the century. In less than two years time world stock indices had dropped around fifty percent of their value. Since then, stock indices increased about forty percent.

It's tempting to think that this recovery could have been predicted in advance. This suspected predictable effect of recovering stock prices returning to their long-term average, is called: 'Mean Reversion'.

More explicitly: 'Mean Reversion of stock prices' is the effect that abnormal stock prices gradually return to their long-term historical average or equilibrium price.

Reversion Speed
In a 2010 working paper, the Dutch regulator DNB provides an answer to this question of recoverability.  In this paper, authors Spierdijk, Bikker and Van den Hoek analyze 'mean reversion in international stock markets' in seventeen developed countries during the period 1900-2008.

One of the outcomes of this study is not only an interesting country spread between 'mean returns' and volatility (risk, standard deviation), but also a mind boggling country difference in 'reversion speed' (rs).  Reversion speed can be defined as the 'yearly interest speed to return to the long-term average. RS differs strongly per country, as the next slide shows:

Ranked by average return (all %):

Reversion conclusions
The DNB study concludes that in the period 1900-2008:
  • Average Return
    The average World Stock Return is estimated at 8.0% with a volatility of 16.7% (S.D.).

  • Half-Life Reversion Period (HLRP)
    It takes 'World Stock Prices' on average about 14 years  to absorb half (!) of a shock (HLRP), with a confidence interval of [10 years -21 years]

  • High Half-Life Uncertainty
    The uncertainty of the half-lives estimates is very high. This is due to the fact that the lower bounds for the corresponding median unbiased estimators are close to zero. The upper bounds of the confidence intervals for the half-lives are therefore very high.

  • Mean Reversion, a Trading Strategy?
    The relative low value of the mean reversion rate, as well as its huge uncertainty, severely limits the possibilities to exploit mean reversion in a trading strategy

Concluding Remarks
We should keep in mind that - no matter how well investigated - historical data - as always - only have a limited predictive power.

Looking with a 'actuarial eye' at the volatile annual development of the S&P-500 returns and their moving averages, it's hard to deny some kind of visual proof of an increasing volatile yearly return and a structural declining 10- or 15-years average return.....

This 'visual proof', combined with the results of the 'DNB Mean Reversion paper',  is perhaps the best indicator that the future average long term World Stock return of 8% is probably way too optimistic and still includes too much the optimist mood and hope of the last decades of the 20th century...

S&P-500, averages annual returns and inflation 1950-2010

Distribution Rate
Inflation Real
Price Change
Total Return
1950's 13.2% 5.4% 19.3% 2.2% 10.7% 16.7%
1960's 4.4% 3.3% 7.8% 2.5% 1.8% 5.2%
1970's 1.6% 4.3% 5.8% 7.4% -5.4% -1.4%
1980's 12.6% 4.6% 17.3% 5.1% 7.1% 11.6%
1990's 15.3% 2.7% 18.1% 2.9% 12.0% 14.7%
2000's -2.7% 1.8% -1.0% 2.5% -5.1% -3.4%
1950-2009 7.2% 3.6% 11.0% 3.8% 3.3% 7.0%

Key question is : What would be a save 'long-term total return of stocks' as a base for an investment strategy, without the 'Hope Bubbles' of the last two decades of the last century?

Probably a long term stock return of about 6% would turn out to be a save basis for a kind of investment reversion strategy......
However, now we know where we are going, it's absolutely necessary to know where we are now? Unfortunately.... we don't know.... ;-) 

Sources, related links:
- DNB 2010: Mean Reversion in International Stock Markets
- (Dutch) DNB-2010: Herstel aandelenmarkten is niet vanzelfsprekend
- Wikipedia: S&P-500 Annual Returns 
Simple Stock Investing: S&P-500 historical data

May 30, 2009

Paradox of Cautiousness

Actuary, Accountant, Supervisor or Consultant, life is full of paradoxes....

Let's examine a very interesting statement made by the respected President of the Dutch Supervisor DNB, Dr. A.H.E.M. Wellink, in a recent interview on Dutch television (2009;Pauw & Witteman, in Dutch):

"If the (economic) growth fall is between minus 1 and minus 2, and I think it is minus 2, I would express myself in a very subtle and nuanced way, by saying:
"I think it's closer to minus 2 than minus 1". And then, if you listen well, you would know it's actually minus 2.
To be sure, we - me and my (supervisory) colleagues - say it in a more
cautious way ..."

What can we conclude from this short prodigious statement?

Communication fuzz
What first becomes clear in this statement is that responsible board members of (local) supervisors, due to media attention and unrealistic expectations, are forced to communicate in euphemisms or coded idiom.

As a consequence, professionals as well as the public, can only have a best guess at what the real message could be, with communication fuzz as a result.

President Wellink should be allowed to simply state that what he actually means, in this case:
"I think the economic growth will be around minus 2 percent"

Diferent meaning
Second problem with trying to communicate in a 'cautious' way, is that the word 'cautious' has a different meaning for different stakeholders.

For example: an investment will have a different risk profile for the investor, the asset management company, the company's shareholder or the supervisor. Each of these stakeholders will therefore have their own definition of the word 'cautious'.

As a consequence, last but not least, it is the question whether it's 'cautious' if you state the negative growth higher (less negative) than what you really think it is. Most people in the public domain will probably qualify this statement as incautious.

Life of supervisory board members is not easy. They are confronted with a persistent paradox, the Paradox of Cautiousness.

If board members report 'early warnings' they are treated as 'messengers of bad news', accused of market interference or irresponsible actions and launching self fulfilling prophecies. On top of this they may get fired or even be held responsible for the negative financial impact of their statements.

On the other hand, if they don't report their findings public and try to solve the problems in a diplomatic way behind close doors, they may get accused afterwards for not having warned in an earlier phase.

Life is full of risks, not only financial risks, but also the risk of the consequences of (non) communication.

As actuaries, we're often in the same difficult situation as President Wellink. We also have to act cautious, realize our 'cautious' advise regarding the Pension Fund, could implicate an 'incautious' advice for the sponsor or the participants of the pension fund.

Not only actuaries, but also accountants, investors or - in short - everyone who has an advisory or controlling function, have to deal with this 'Paradox of Cautiousness'.

Risk Escalation Management & POP
In most cases the Paradox of Cautiousness can be avoided by proactive Risk management.

If (recalculation of) your Risk Management Models or Scenario's indicate a significant change of risk in the (near) future, immediately take action, propose measures and demand adequate decisions. Don't postpone your actions in order to be sure of the observed changes nor on the advice of friendly 'experienced' stakeholders that tell you with a smile there'll be no problem at all and you're overreacting.

Once you're in the phase where incidentally ad-hoc repair management by the board has failed and serious structural repair management scenario's have to be put on the table, you're too late!

You'll have past the so called point of no return - in this case - the Point of Paradox (POP), you're caught in

The Paradox of Cautiousness

If you put your warnings and proposals in this phase on the table, stakeholders will tell you they felt caught by your actions. Soon board members and other stakeholders will blame you for not having warned them earlier and will question your accountability. Before you realize what's going on, you're in phase three: Crisis management, your head is on the block.

Rules of Thumb
From Wellink's simple example, we may conclude several rules of thumb about being cautious:
  • Dimension cautioness
    Never state that you are cautious in general, always dimension cautiousness with regard to the different stakeholders and the type and size of risks.

  • Early stage warning
    In line with "good governance" always try to warn in an early stage, before the Point of Paradox (POP) when things are (about) to move in the wrong direction, but are still manageable. Warn in a transparent way, open and visible to all stakeholders. Arrange a board level discussion and make sure you've got a completely free hand in what and how you put your findings and vision on the table.

  • External Advice
    Make sure that you're allowed (and have budget) to hire external consult whenever you think this is necessary. In case of discussions or decisions that may have substantial financial impact, don't doubt, but hire external legal or financial consult to assist you and to validate your findings.

  • Contract & Access
    Make sure your contract includes conditions that prevent your employer from firing you during your report findings period and make sure you have (formal) access to any (supervisory) board member when you think this is opportune.

After this heavy stuff, let's conclude with a nice parable...

Parable of the Cautious Actuary
There was a very cautious actuary,
who never laughed or cried.
He never risked, he never lost,
he never won nor tried.
And when he one day passed away,
his insurance was denied,
For since he never really lived,
they claimed he never died.
- Unknown -

Apr 30, 2009

DNB report on Credit Crisis

As experienced actuaries you'll probably know that 'De Nederlandsche Bank' (DNB) is the Dutch supervisor on banks, pension funds, insurers and mutual funds.

Recently DNB reported about the effects of the credit crisis.

You may find the report in the recently published:

Main articles in this interesting bulletin discuss the following topics:
  • Capital market financing more difficult and more expensive in 2008
  • Dutch banks scaled down foreign activities
  • Dutch pension funds fail in realizing indexation ambitions in 2009

The bulletin also includes a description of the fully revised statistics of investment funds.

The Dutch save massively for their pensions. To supplement their future state old age pension, nearly 6 million employees save for a pension at a pension fund. At end-2007, over 2.5 million persons received a pension benefit.

These savings have accumulated into a collective nest egg of around EUR 575 billion, i.e. nearly EUR 80,000 per Dutch household (end-2008).

For many households, pension savings are by far their largest financial asset. As a result of the credit crisis, pension funds saw their financial position deteriorate. In 2008, the pension funds’ average nominal funding ratio dropped from 144% to 95%

Chart: Funding ratio.
Broken down by interest rate effect and return on equities

According to a survey among the largest 25 pension funds, the pension sector, too, is being impacted by the credit crisis.

Following catch-up indexation last year, pension benefits will probably be indexed on average at a mere 0.2% this year. This means a loss of purchasing power for pensioners, even though the price level has fallen since the summer of 2008. Many pension entitlements accrued by employees, too, are not being indexed.

In 2009, pension contributions will rise, especially those of employers with an independent company pension fund. Employees, too, will be paying higher contributions.

Interested? More info at DNB