Asian insurers eye infra debt, Europe stocks

They plan to boost exposure to these asset classes most of all this year, with outsourcing to external managers high on the agenda, finds GSAM’s annual survey of insurance CIOs.
Asian insurers eye infra debt, Europe stocks

While insurance chief investment officers globally believe private equity will provide the best returns this year, those in Asia appear most bullish on infrastructure debt and European equities.

And they are allocating accordingly, according to the latest annual insurance CIO survey conducted by Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM)*. Some 30% of pan-Asia insurers in plan to raise exposure to each of the two asset classes. An even greater 35% of firms in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea) plan to do the same.

Insurers globally plan to make the biggest net allocation increases to infrastructure debt (29%), private equity (28%), commercial mortgage loans (26%) and real estate equity (26%). CIOs in the Americas indicated the greatest appetite for PE, with nearly 40% planning to raise their exposure.

(Last year CIOs planned to make the biggest allocation increases to bank loans (41%), property (34%) and US equities (33%).)

This year's findings were despite the fact that only 1% of respondents globally think infrastructure debt will provide the highest total return. Some 30% voted private equity as the most likely to perform best, followed by US equities (17%) and European equities (13%).

Meanwhile, pan-Asian CIOs showed greater demand for hedge funds than those in other regions, with 24% say they will boost allocations to the asset class compared to around 10% in the Americas and Emea.

Outsourcing investment management is high on the agenda, with nearly 40% of pan-Asia-based insurers saying they will outsource more of their portfolios in the coming 12 months, while only 4% will outsource less. This compares to the global survey figure of 24% of CIOs who said they will outsource more, and 6% saying they would do so less.

The largest insurers expressed significant interest in outsourcing: 37% of insurers with more than $50 billion in assets plan to outsource more of their investment portfolios, compared to 20% of insurers with assets of $50 billion or less.

Twenty percent of the largest insurers said they do not outsource, compared to just 7% of smaller insurers, which may be related to large insurers’ greater desire to outsource this year, says the study.

As for overall risk appetite, CIOs in Asia and Emea showed greater desire to boost risk than those in the Americas, but lower risk appetite relative to last year.

In Asia, 37% of CIOs said they will increase overall portfolio risk, compared to 53% last year; with 41% of Emea-based CIOs looking to boost risk, compared to 56% in 2013. The figures for Americas-based CIOs were 32% this year, versus 33% in 2013.

The detailed survey also covered topics including views on inflation/deflation, levels of investment risk, macroeconomic risks and interest rates.

*GSAM polled a total of 185 CIOs, 46 of whom were based in Asia. The study included companies that invest some $6 trillion in assets.

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