A variety of Japanese pension fund representatives and fund managers attended AsianInvestor's 8th annual Institutional Investment Forum in Tokyo on June 18, looking to gain information and insight about increasingly expensive asset markets and an uncertain medium to long-term economic outlook. 

One key topic was how much the investment teams of Japanese asset owners should seek to manage their assets in-house versus appointing external fund houses. Yoshi Kiguchi, the chief investment officer (CIO) of the Okayama Metal & Machinery Pension Fund and West Japan Metal & Machinery Pension Fund, offered his thoughts about the ideal mix during an on-stage interview.

Similarly, Tokihiko Shimizu, head of the investment banking division at Japan Post Bank, offered the audience his views on particular areas where specialist external fund managers could offer helpful insight, giving the examples of the Chinese loan market as well as the mortgage market in Australia.

And Eric Stein, co-director of global income at Boston-based investment firm Eaton Vance, noted that there were areas where active investing made sense such as less developed markets, including many emerging and frontier markets and also debt markets.

Alternatives was another area of focus during the conference. The asset classes that comprise this area – real estate, private equity, private debt, infrastructure and hedge funds – are generally gaining interest among institutional investors keen for asset diversification and extra alpha. Kosuke Okimori, executive investment director at Kewpie Pension Fund, told the audience of his interest in them.

“There is potential to establish or increase illiquid exposure for many corporate pension funds, and we are starting to see some invest in infrastruture debt," said Okimori.

But Chisato Haganuma, chief strategist for global asset management at Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation, was less optimistic. He noted that when this late state of the economic cycle ends, the economy will suffer and that could hurt the value of illiquid asset classes. 

Please click here to see a gallery of photos from the event.