Top pension fund assets hit $15 trillion

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Australia, Brazil, Canada

LONDON. Tuesday 2 September, 2014 - Total assets of the world’s largest 300 pension funds grew by over 6% in 2013 (compared to around 10% in 2012) to reach a new high of almost US$15 trillion (up from US$14 trillion in 2012), according to Pensions & Investments and Towers Watson research. The P&I / Towers Watson global 300 research, conducted in conjunction with Pensions & Investments, a leading US investment newspaper, shows that by individual region, Latin American and African funds had the highest five-year combined compound growth rate of over 16% (albeit from a low base) compared to Europe (12%), North America (around 6%) and Asia-Pacific (around 5%). The research also shows that the world’s top 300 pension funds now represent around 47% of global pension assets1.

According to the research, defined benefit (DB) funds account for 67% of total assets, down from 75% five years ago. During 2013, DB assets grew by around 3%, compared to reserve funds2 (15%), defined contribution (DC) plans (over 9%) and hybrids (over 8%).

Chris Ford, global head of Investment at Towers Watson, said: “Quantitative easing (QE) and easy monetary conditions have provided an unexpected tailwind for equity markets for the last five years or so, which continued strongly in 2013. This clearly helped many funds given their high allocation to equities. Despite ongoing high performance from equities many funds, particularly more mature funds, continue to diversify into other asset classes as they de-risk their portfolios. There is also broad acknowledgement that QE and low interest rates will not last forever and that recent exceptional equity market growth is unlikely to repeat in 2015.”

According to the research, the US remains the country with the largest share of pension fund assets accounting for 36%. Japan has the second-largest market share of around 13%, largely because of the Government Pension Investment Fund. That fund, which is still at the top of the ranking (a position it has held for the past ten years), has assets of around US$1.2 trillion. The Netherlands has the third-largest market share with 7%, while Norway and Canada are fourth and fifth largest respectively with over 6% share each.  The research shows that 38 new funds entered the ranking during the past five years and, on a net basis, the countries that contributed the most new funds were Australia (three funds) and South Korea, Russia, Poland, Colombia and Canada (two funds). During the same period, the US had a net loss of 12 funds from the ranking, yet it still accounts for 126 funds in the research. The UK is the next highest with 26 funds, followed by Canada (19), Australia (16), Japan (14) and the Netherlands (13).

Chris Ford said: “The continuing growth of most pension markets is genuinely encouraging; despite the fact that many structural issues remain. During 2013 we dared to believe that a number of positive developments presaged the end of the global financial crisis and as it turned out the global economic recovery has continued to gain momentum into 2014. It is noteworthy that the 13 major pensions markets are now more than double the size they were ten years ago and pension assets now amount to around 78% of global GDP, substantially higher than the 61% recorded in 2008.”

Sovereign funds3 continue to feature strongly in the ranking with 27 of them accounting for 28% of assets and totalling around US$4.2 trillion. The 113 public sector funds in the research had assets of US$5.8 trillion in 2013 and account for 39% of the total. Private sector industry funds (61) and corporate funds (99) account for 14% and 19% respectively of assets in the research.

Chris Ford said: “Investors have been justifiably preoccupied with managing risk for a number of years but now are increasingly searching for elusive yield. This competition will become fiercer in the face of expected anaemic growth and benign inflationary conditions globally and which will increasingly polarise winners and losers. Most funds are unlikely to get adequate returns from the market in the coming year and will need to work hard in ‘added-value spaces’ to find the couple of extra per cent per annum they need. Investors will need to be well organised to deliver this and it will likely involve a substantial shift in focus away from security selection in equities and towards capturing returns from alternative markets and strategies.”

1 Estimation based on the P&I / Towers Watson global 300 ranking and Towers Watson Global Pension Asset Study.
2 Reserve funds are set aside by a National government to guarantee pension payments and are characterised by no explicit liabilities and hence are neither DB nor DC.
3 As established by national authorities for the meeting of pension liabilities.  We acknowledge that there are many other state-sponsored funds established – we have attempted to restrict this to funds specifically sponsored by national authorities.

Top 20 pension funds
(US$ millions)

Rank Fund Country Region 2013 AUM
1. Government Pension Investment Japan Asia-Pacific $1,221,501  
2. Government Pension Fund Norway Europe $858,469  
3. ABP Netherlands Europe $415,657  
4. National Pension South Korea Asia-Pacific $405,521  
5. Federal Retirement Thrift U.S. North America $375,088  
6. California Public Employees U.S. North America $273,066  
7. Canada Pension Canada North America $206,173 1
8. National Social Security China Asia-Pacific $205,168  
9. Central Provident Fund Singapore Asia-Pacific $200,376  
10. PFZW Netherlands Europe $196,933 1
11. Employees Provident Fund Malaysia Asia-Pacific $182,216  
12. Local Government Officials Japan Asia-Pacific $179,820 1
13. California State Teachers U.S. North America $172,424  
14. New York State Common U.S. North America $164,008  
15. Florida State Board U.S. North America $146,266  
16. New York City Retirement U.S. North America $143,925  
17. Ontario Teachers Canada North America $132,445  
18. Texas Teachers U.S. North America $119,706  
19. GEPF South Africa Other $117,681 2
20. Pension Fund Association Japan Asia-Pacific $117,636  

1. As of March 31, 2014

2. As of March 31, 2013

Sovereign pension funds
(US$ millions)

Rank Fund Country Region 2013 AUM  
1. Government Pension Investment Japan Asia-Pacific $1,221,501  
2. Government Pension Fund Norway Europe $858,469  
3. National Pension South Korea Asia-Pacific $405,521  
4. Canada Pension Canada North America $206,173 1
5. National Social Security China Asia-Pacific $205,168  
6. Central Provident Fund Singapore Asia-Pacific $200,376  
7. Employees Provident Fund Malaysia Asia-Pacific $182,216  
8. GEPF South Africa Other $117,681 2
9. National Wealth Fund Russia Europe $88,179 3
10. Future Fund Australia Asia-Pacific $86,196  
11. Fondo de Reserva Seguridad Spain Europe $74,106  
12. Employees' Provident India Asia-Pacific $70,573 2
13. Labor Pension Fund Taiwan Asia-Pacific $59,756  
14. Public Institute for Social Security Kuwait Other $56,871 1, 4
15. FRR France Europe $50,054  
16. AP Fonden 3 Sweden Europe $41,441  
17. AP Fonden 2 Sweden Europe $40,434  
18. AP Fonden 4 Sweden Europe $39,785  
19. AP Fonden 1 Sweden Europe $38,692  
20. National Pensions Reserve Ireland Europe $27,854 1
21. Zilverfond Belgium Europe $27,527  
22. AP Fonden 7 Sweden Europe $26,670  
23. State Pension Finland Europe $22,524  
24. FEFSS Portugal Europe $16,132  
25. Fonds de Comp./Securite Sociale Luxembourg Europe $16,086  
26. New Zealand Superannuation New Zealand Asia-Pacific $14,205 5
27. Social Insurance Funds Vietnam Asia-Pacific $13,761  

1. As of March 31, 2014

2. As of March 31, 2013

3. As of January 1, 2014

4. Estimate

5. As of June 30, 2013 

Towers Watson Investment

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About Towers Watson

Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) is a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. The company offers consulting, technology and solutions in the areas of benefits, talent management, rewards, and risk and capital management. Towers Watson has more than 14,000 associates around the world.

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