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How do you ensure your matching portfolio is always a good hedge?

Protect your matching portfolio from spread scenarios

Whatever happens, you should always be satisfied with your hedging outcome. Scenario thinking will put an ideal matching portfolio at your fingertips.

By Rik Klerkx, head of LDI at Cardano

Matching in all circumstances

The matching portfolio must realise the set hedging rate. Always. Pension funds use a wide range of investment strategies to make this happen, but as a portfolio manager, I prefer managing the spread risk with scenario thinking. This can give pension fund executives peace of mind, knowing that their matching portfolio will perform properly in all circumstances.

Spread risk can be positive and negative

Even safe Dutch or German government bonds constitute risk – not credit risk, but spread risk, the risk that the interest rate on bonds and the swap rate develop differently, with the discrepancy between them being the spread. When these two rates change, the spread differs, which will cause the value of the bond to develop differently than that of the liabilities. Ultimately, this can have either a positive or a negative effect on funding levels.

Exchanging long-term bonds for swaps and short-term bonds

For a very long time, long-term government bonds were an attractive way to hedge long-term liabilities, as the interest rate on bond was higher than the swap rate. Briefly put: there was a positive spread. However, following ECB’s buyout policy, this turned into a negative spread, after which the interest rate on bonds dropped below the swap rate.

What are the consequences? The value of the bonds has risen considerably relative to the liabilities, entailing a good price gain for pension funds. Meanwhile, they have become less attractive as a way to hedge interest rate risk, because not only is the interest rate on bonds now lower than on swaps, but the risk of a sharp price drop in response to higher interest rates has also increased.

Accordingly, this is a great time to exchange long-term bonds for short-term bonds and long-term swaps in order to lock in price gains.

Resilient portfolio with spread scenarios

For a good hedging outcome under any circumstance, portfolios must be able to withstand various spread scenarios. Consider the impact of rising spreads, falling spreads, and the convergence or divergence of different spreads, such as those for German and French government bonds. Ultimately, it’s important that no scenario becomes too painful.

Stay open-minded

Professional investors usually begin with a large portfolio full of government bonds, before using swaps to resolve the mismatch with liabilities. This is how the sector has handled the problem for ages. If you keep an open mind, however, designing a safe matching portfolio based on the fund’s liabilities is a more obvious approach. Start with a blank sheet of paper and build the most efficient portfolio brick by brick.

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