Photographer: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg

World’s Biggest Pension Fund Gains $21 Billion

  • Domestic and foreign stocks both deliver positive returns
  • GPIF posts losses on bond holdings after yields rise

The world’s biggest pension fund posted its first profit in three quarters as stocks rebounded, providing some respite for the Japanese state money manager after critics lambasted it for taking on too much risk.

The Government Pension Investment Fund returned 1.8 percent, or 2.4 trillion yen ($21 billion) in the three months ended Sept. 30, boosting assets to 132.1 trillion yen, it said in Tokyo on Friday. Domestic and foreign equities added 3.1 trillion yen as they recovered from their Brexit rout, outweighing a loss of 706.9 billion yen on bond holdings.

The profit comes after the fund lost more than 10 trillion yen over the previous two quarters, wiping out all investment gains since it overhauled its strategy in 2014 by boosting shares and cutting debt. As Japanese stocks extend their advance and U.S. equities climb to fresh records after Donald Trump’s election win, the prospect of further strong performance may help quash complaints at home that GPIF’s investing approach is too dangerous.

“It’ll take some pressure off,” said Naoki Fujiwara, chief fund manager at Shinkin Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “This quarter will probably be good too. But before we all get too excited, we need to be wary about whether this can continue for long.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in parliament in September that the fund’s short-term losses aren’t a problem for Japan’s pension finances. GPIF’s purchases of stocks are a “gamble,” opposition lawmaker Yuichiro Tamaki said in an interview that month, after an almost 20 percent drop in Japan’s Topix index in the first half of the year was followed by a 7.3 percent one-day plunge after Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union.

Read more: A QuickTake on Japan’s giant pension fund

Domestic bonds, the only asset class to deliver a profit in the fiscal year ended March, posted a 1.3 percent loss in the three months through September after yields rebounded. That reduced Japanese debt to 36 percent of holdings, compared to a target allocation of 35 percent. Yields on 10-year bonds climbed to minus 0.085 percent at the end of September from negative 0.23 percent at the end of June.

Asset Weightings

Local stocks made up 22 percent of GPIF’s portfolio at the end of September, while foreign shares accounted for 21 percent. That compares with targets of 25 percent for each. GPIF delivered a 7.1 percent gain on domestic stocks, beating a 6.2 percent rebound in the Topix during the period.

Returns from overseas assets were muted by a stronger yen, which rose 1.8 percent against the dollar in the quarter. GPIF’s international stocks gained 3.7 percent, while foreign bonds lost 0.2 percent as yields rose amid speculation the U.S. will tighten borrowing costs.

Alternative assets accounted for 0.05 percent of GPIF’s holdings, well below the allowable limit of 5 percent. Toyota Motor Corp., Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. were the fund’s top stock investments at the end of March, while Japanese government bonds, U.S. Treasuries and Italian debt were the largest bond holdings, GPIF said.

(Corrects time since GPIF posted a profit in first paragraph of story published Nov. 25. Corrects amount of loss and period over which it was incurred in third paragraph.)
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